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NCAA’S AUTONOMY PROPOSAL for the MAJOR FOOTBALL CONFERENCES: NEEDED REFORM or SPORTS IMPERIALISM?

I was intrigued by this coverage for the new NCAA proposal that calls for autonomy for the major conferences.  Here are some highlights:

From USA Today:

The NCAA moved closer Thursday to giving more power to its five most prominent conferences, but several important issues remain to be resolved.

Meeting in Indianapolis, the Division I board of directors endorsed a restructuring of the Division I legislative system in an attempt to streamline its processes. They also endorsed the general idea of giving increased autonomy to the 65 schools in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, providing the power conferences – referred to in a draft proposal as the “Big Five” – the ability to provide athletes with unprecedented benefits and resources.

Unprecedented benefits and resources?  I have grave concerns about giving the major powers special treatment.  But there’s more and the devil’s in the details:

According to the proposal, which is scheduled to go to a final vote in August, the Big Five conferences would have autonomy to address issues in several areas, including things like: full cost of attendance scholarships; continuing education and medical care; insurance; and the ability to pay for expenses for family members on trips.

These reforms seem reasonable.  Why not impose them on all the schools, not just the big programs?  Maybe the smaller schools can’t pay enough?

Now we turn to SB Nations with lots of lawyerly ideas:

Let’s say the power conferences adopt a full-cost scholarship and that this counts as permissible legislation. Smaller conferences can then individually choose whether they want to adopt it. This way, no conference is forced to adopt something it doesn’t think it can afford, but the bigger schools are not held back.

Actionable legislation would still have to pass a 27-conference voting majority before it applies to the smaller conferences. As John Infante explains, “actionable legislation would be where the five conference want to limit themselves and include personnel limits, time demands on athletes, transfer rules, financial aid cancellation, recruiting contact, and pre-enrollment support for prospects.” The board didn’t fully endorse many pieces of actionable legislation. Those are still up for discussion.

The steering committee continues to discuss other areas that could be included in the areas of autonomy, including the creation of mandatory time away from athletics for student-athletes; eliminating rules that prohibit student-athletes from pursuing careers outside of athletics while still competing (for example, making music and art or writing a book); recruiting; transfer issues; and athletics department personnel.

So the smaller schools have to keep up or fall to the wayside.  No more Butlers or VCUs or other underdogs.  Let’s finally shut out the pesky Boise States of the future so they can’t win a championship.

This is actually a good idea (on paper):

Right now, players can appeal to the NCAA if they’re punished for violations. The College Athletes Players Associtaion (CAPA) is asking for a better appeals system and for the punishments to be consistent throughout the organization. The latter has been an issue in recent years, as sanctions for schools and players have varied wildly (see Penn State, Miami, and USC).

The NCAA has already started redefining the differences between institutional and individual failure when it comes to academic fraud. It will also give athletes a small voice in the legislative process, though that might not be enough to dissuade athletes from unionizing to ensure a legal voice in the process.

But this idea could turn into legalized tampering with star players from smaller conferences:

The new model of autonomy allows for the power conferences to change the transfer rules when players transfer among the Big 5. They would not affect smaller conferences without their approval.

I do agree that a player should be able to follow a coach to his or her new school under most if not all circumstances without a loss of eligibility.

There is a great discussion here at SB Nation about Title IX, the commendable and well-meaning statute that seems to hurt men’s sports as much as it helps women’s sports.  One federal judge suggests that the revenue sports (football, basketball, sometimes other sports that make money for their program) could have a revenue-sharing program to preserve the non-revenue sports.

Now much of this has arisen due to various lawsuits and the famous or infamous attempt (so far successful) to unionize the Northwestern football team.

I now turn to a nearby paper – no two nearby papers (Paul Woody in the Times-Dispatch and the Style Weekly) for some concluding remarks.

RT-D (via athleticbusiness.com):

“I think this certainly has been bubbling for a long time,” said Chris Mooney, men’s basketball coach at the University of Richmond, a member of the Atlantic 10. “I don’t want to speak for the conference commissioners or athletic directors, but I would think we would match that (stipends).”

Most conferences will do what is necessary to remain competitive in basketball. The quest for a spot in the NCAA tournament is an essential part of their existence.

***

Division I football already is out of control. No team outside one of the five power conferences has a real chance to compete for a national championship.

That is not the case in basketball. At the moment, the NCAA tournament is seen as untouchable.

“What keeps it great is the Cinderella stories, the five-12 pairings often won by the 12,” Mooney said.

But if the major conferences get more autonomy, how long before their members lose patience with the basketball tournament selection process — “Our No.9 team didn’t get in, but they took a second team from the Colonial?” — and establish a super championship in basketball, followed by such championships in all sports?

As 2024 approaches and the $11 billion NCAA tournament television contract nears expiration, rest assured there will be talk of the lucrative possibilities of a basketball tournament among the Big Five conferences to establish a true national champion.

So we will have two divisions in major college basketball – the Big Five and the Rest.  It will destroy the tournament or turn the March event into a tourney where all the winners are from the Big Five.  That will also be supremely unattractive.  I certainly am not interested in that.

Style:

“Sadly I have come to the conclusion that in general … football as it is presently conducted in American colleges and universities serves neither amateurism nor the sports ideal — that, instead, it is big business, deleterious in its effects upon both the athlete and the non-athlete and the sponsoring institution itself.”

The quote sounds like something a modern-day critic of big-time college football might say about the sad, money-driven status of the sport today.

***

But back to that quote. It was first published more than six decades ago, in 1953. It’s part of a scathing attack on the industry by longtime college-football insider Richard I. Miller in his book “The Truth About Big-Time Football.”

Miller was right.  He is a Tesla for college sports, perhaps even a Preston Tucker.  Now I am a proud Alabama alum.  Ask my wife – she’ll tell you it was ugly around my house after the Auburn game last year!  (Although I will admit: It was a neat ending to a game!)

But Miller and this Back Pages author [Ryan Whirty] are right.  Major college football is basically a pro league; it is huge business for the colleges and the pro teams that receive the players they need after four years in the “minors”.

So, I think people are thinking.  Thinking hard.  Some is well-meaning.  We could use fewer rules in the NCAA.  But college sports as we know it is about to change.  I think what will happen is sports imperialism.  The major powers get all the championships and rig the game – just like what the major powers have done to the Olympics.

I think I might someday be like William Lloyd Garrison – I’ll vote with my feet – it’ll be “sin for me” to partake in/watch/support major college sports.  Maybe the Model UN team. Or curling.  Or the Zimbabwe curling program…or is it Botswana?

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood “Sandy” Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia’s first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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