Today’s soundtrack is brought to you by 70 degrees and sunny skies in Los Angeles. Oh, and a little bit of EW&F.
Commentary: Too Big To Fail?
Last week, our random tweeting ended up getting a response from one of the national sports media that I have a lot of respect for, ESPN’s Jay Bilas. Online he’s honest and often hilarious, and a good addition to your twitter timeline.
Bilas’ main addition to the “conversation” on twitter, other than early morning hip-hop lyrics, is his critique of the current NCAA configuration. Like those of us here at tBBC, he’s hypercritical of the myth of amateurism and believes that the student athlete should be able to get a “cut” of the millions being made on their name and because of their performance.
One critique I have of his “take” though is that he seems to limit it only to the 140 character world of twitter- as someone who seems passionate about this issue and college athlete wellbeing, it’s a shame that he doesn’t chose to use his platform on the World Wide Leader to be more critical of the status quo; in fact, it would seem that he’s chosen instead to be OK continuing to make his living and his livelihood off of the television contract that his employer enjoys, courtesy of the current configuration of college sports. We all have choices to make in our lives.
In last week’s SBP, I wrote about how easy it was to criticize the NCAA but how challenging it really was to come up with something better. I ended with the question that Mr. Bilas responded to- Since the NCAA is broken, how do we fix it?
His response, as you can see above, is a good one and one that we’ve seen before. Do away with the NCAA, let Universities worry about the academic aspect of their institutions (and, subsequently, the teams affiliated with those), and end the myth of amateurism. He went on to say that football and basketball should have their own distinctive legislative bodies with their own commissioners.
Bilas’ ideas, while insightful, also highlight the significant challenge facing anyone who hopes to reform college sports- an idea that’s been around since well before Teddy Roosevelt got involved. However, in the years since The Old Roughrider‘s concern, things have gotten infinitely more complicated- money, power, prestige, and other aspects that the reader will call to mind are now evidences that the cart of athletics is, in many ways, before the horse of educational purpose.
Even if we were to make a move to Bilas’ suggestions, the sheer magnitude makes it unrealistic. There are close to 1300 institutions that make up the NCAA; even if only half had football, the question remains- how does one organization and one commissioner work with that many programs and teams? Basketball would be an even larger issue, as more schools participate in that sport than are able to field football programs.
Perhaps, though, Bilas is suggesting not a total dismantling of the NCAA but a “sheering off” of the top programs into either a new division or a new reality altogether. While this is something that I support, as it would help separate the financial “haves” from the “have nots” it still raises some significant questions.
First, what level of money would meet the criterion for membership- remember, there are very few programs that don’t take money from the University general budget or state funding. Second, would this arbitrary delineation also mean that some of the “border” programs would need to cut finances from other areas in order to keep up? Again, as an Ohio State fan this is not an issue that often comes to mind- we’re “the 1%” of the college football landscape.
A second issue about this breakaway was asked by Charles in our conversation with Bilas- would it only be football and basketball that would break away? If so, what governance would exist for the other, non-revenue sports? Would the NCAA continue to exist? Would these programs even be able to continue, given that much of their funding comes from the newly separated teams? And, at a deeper level, what impact would this have on the federal Title IX requirements that mandate equity for men’s and women’s sports- would the necessity of this new reality lead to Ohio State having a football and basketball program for men, but only women’s sports in other fields?
Again, this is a different conversation at Ohio State and Florida than it is at places like Butler and Gonzaga- programs with a strong hoops tradition, but who would struggle to play “keep up” in a basketball alignment with the Buckeyes and Gators due to their funding. That’s the reality of sports in 2013- there are about 30-40 “power” programs in football, but perhaps twice that many in basketball. And, given that “March Madness” is often lifted up as the ultimate example of college sports parity, it’s hard to imagine basketball moving to a place where there is a split in the current configuration (since we know that small programs “belong”, and want to avoid the anti-trust stuff that we saw from Utah legislators around the BCS), but that may be a reality, given Bilas’ recommendation.
I’m in partial agreement with Bilas’ ideas regarding letting the Universities worry about the academic matters, because I believe that this will hasten a shift away from the myth of “student athlete”. They’re not amateur athletes, and, in my opinion, are often also not students. Not that they couldn’t be, or that there aren’t some who excel in this arena, but the reality is that Cardale Jones was right- many “didn’t come here to play school”, and would be glad to be involved in a true “minor league” opportunity if that was available. At some point, it’s easy to imagine Universities just throwing their hands up and putting together such a laughable academic set of requirements for admission and eligibility that it ends up being pointless… and we move to a different ideal.
I’ve often wondered about the possibility of having the “Affiliation” between the program the the University being loose, at best. What if the Buckeyes rented their connection with Ohio State- using revenue from TV, licensing, ticket sales, etc. to fund the program, including a “fee” paid back to the athletic department for the use of facilities (the ‘Shoe, the WHAC) and the name “Ohio State”? This fee could be monetary (to fund other sports) or could be a scholarship exchange program for athletic participants. This latter would be somewhat similar to what we currently have- in exchange for being connected to the University, the program would be able to offer scholarships to participants who were interested in pursuing a degree, whenever they felt like doing so (after their athletic careers, perhaps?).
Again, I’m still wrestling with this, but am continually realizing that the issue cannot be resolved simply by “killing the NCAA”. Without some very creative and mindful thinking, such a move would impact a lot more than is currently at the surface of the conversation- from the non-revenue sports to the athletic departments who try their best to provide opportunities at the smaller levels where they reside.
So- Got any great ideas?
Around The NCAA
And Finally- It doesn’t get any better than this: