THE NCAA’s power five conferences have done a masterful job of marketing and selling their push to govern themselves, all the while masking their desire to ensure that the wealthiest 65 schools will get wealthier.
Smart folks, those commissioners of the power five. They could not push through an agenda to separate from the NCAA pack and keep all the lucrative and expanding TV revenue to themselves. So they championed a new governance strategy this past week by claiming it was all about the welfare of the athlete.
When the NCAA’s board of directors approved a new governance structure for Division I, they took the first step to creating an upper class in college athletics. The select group of members in the elite class will include athletics programs from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
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Plain and simple, the upper class no longer will need the approval of the middle to lower class to determine how it runs its operation and how it spends its money. Rest assured, college football coaching staffs that are restricted to nine full-time assistants will soon expand to 15 or 20 at the super-conference level. Recruiting restrictions that once kept the wealthiest programs from gaining an advantage over the rest soon will be lifted.
If paying athletes – they like to call it increasing the “full cost of attendance” – is approved for the super five conference programs, an even wider gap will exist between the haves and have nots of college athletics.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept that this move to elite status was for the benefit of the athlete. Let’s examine some of the proposals the super five conferences are talking about to enhance the well-being of athletes.
If the super five programs were truly interested – first and foremost – in helping the athletes, then their first order of business should be to make mandatory four-year scholarships in all sports.
The only holdup is that many coaches are unwilling to relinquish the power of the scholarship to the athlete. The annual full scholarships, as they are doled out now, occasionally are yanked by coaches because of the athlete’s poor on-field performance. With a four-year ride, the athlete can drop from the team and still maintain a scholarship toward a degree, which falls more in line with the mission of most colleges.
The super five conferences also are discussing ways to improve health care for athletes, provide insurance policies against injury and create more lifetime educational opportunities. All are excellent ideas that should be put into place as quickly as possible, and really could have been implemented without the formation of the super five conferences.
The one area where the super five conferences seem to be hanging their hat will be the one piece of legislation most difficult to pull off. It is not as simple as saying the “full cost of attendance” should be bumped by $2,000 a semester per football and men’s basketball player beyond the tuition, room and board that is currently offered.
Title IX and Pell Grants make “full cost of attendance” increases a dicey proposition for even the wealthiest of the 65 power conference members.
Title IX is, of course, the federal legislation that demands equal treatment for women in athletics. There is no way for the super five conferences to get around the law that says if “full cost of attendance” is increased for 85 scholarship football players, then the same must be done equally for 85 female scholarship athletes.
That might be an affordable proposition for the USCs and Clemsons among the super five programs, but the Wake Forests and the TCUs might not be on board, especially when you consider that fewer than 15 Division I athletics programs turned a profit a year ago before an increase in “full cost of attendance.”
Do I hear an increase in ticket prices?
Then there is the Pell Grant issue. When asked at the recent ACC football kickoff meeting, league commissioner John Swofford admitted that Pell Grants could be a thorn in the “full cost of attendance” proposal.
Pell Grants are offered to students based on family income. Needy students, which include many football and men’s basketball athletes, can qualify for up to $5,645 annually in grant money from the federal government without having to repay it. Some college athletes use the money to make monthly payments on cars or take their dates out for pizza. Others send all of the money home for their family’s use.
The sticking point is that for every dollar that is increased toward “full cost of attendance,” the qualified athlete could lose that dollar in Pell Grant money. In other words, the super five conferences could be sacrificing free stipends for athletes for the costly – likely in the millions of dollars – sake of saying they are paying athletes.
Even the wealthiest programs do not want to throw away that kind of money, even if it is all about improving the welfare of the athlete as they would like us to believe.