With all the lawsuits and the unionization threat at Northwestern, perhaps it’s starting to dawn on college presidents that there’s more to calling the shots on college athletics governance than simply standing in the right place ready to catch the bundles of cash ESPN tosses out the broadcast airplane. Accountability isn’t all it’s cracked up to be these days, you know?
When the going gets tough, the presidents get going. And in a move straight out of Ass Covering 101, that means adding a layer of protection between themselves and the hard calls. Enter the athletic directors.
But a more effective governance system for athletes might first require a power surge for the athletic directors, which appears to be on the horizon. In April, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors endorsed a restructuring model that would give athletic directors a permanent spot on the future board. That spot would go to the chair of a group tentatively being called the “Council,” which would be charged with handling day-to-day policy and legislative issues.
Hey, that’s great. There are only two problems I can see with that. First, let’s remember who got them into this situation in the first place.
The landscape fundamentally changed in 1997 when Division I restructured with a representative form of governance. It brought about two major shifts:
1. Presidential involvement increased substantially, as the Division I Board of Directors, comprised exclusively of presidents and chancellors, was established. University presidents started becoming NCAA presidents, first with Indiana’s Myles Brand in 2003 and then with Washington’s Mark Emmert in 2010.
2. Conferences rather than individual schools provided representation for policy decisions. Commissioners and league offices gained greater roles in shaping votes, and often league representatives weren’t athletic directors, but lower-level administrators. According to Smith, some representatives could change their votes after debate at the NCAA convention. Others showed up with instructions from their leagues that had to be followed.
“That was the beginning of the morass,” said San Jose State AD Gene Bleymaier, who held the same post at Boise State from 1982 to 2012. “The NCAA convention no longer meant anything. ADs and presidents quit going.
“When we went away from that, it has not been good. It was the gradual disengagement.”
The presidential push in 1997 surprised Gene Corrigan, who served both as NCAA president and ACC commissioner during the restructuring. Corrigan wondered why presidents, with an already full plate, wanted to digest a bigger piece of the athletics pie.
Dude. Duuuude. If you don’t know how cool it feels to be blathering about how college athletics should be managed, check with Michael Adams. There are a lot of presidential egos out there that need outlets. And they’re not going away, either.
“I keep telling my colleagues, ‘Be careful what you ask for,’” Burke said, “because they’re going to pitch this ball to us to run with, subject to their oversight, as any board would. We’re going to have the opportunity to be much more engaged and, therefore, the best have to be willing to serve.”
The presidents and athletic directors are aligned on two major points: the ADs need more power in shaping policies, but the presidents still have the final say.
Talk about your recipe for success.
And here’s the other issue - the presidents are turning to guys like these two for their fix:
(photo via Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports)
The gentleman on the left is politely described by Brian Cook as “a mediocrity in a suit with one skill, which is wearing the suit”. He’s conversing with the fellow who just paid himself a five-figure bonus because one of his student-athletes won a national wrestling title.
And they’re considered paragons of their profession, unlike, say, Rutgers’ Julie Hermann or the genius at Kansas State who orchestrated the Romero transfer debacle. (You may also remember previous hits like Mike Hamilton and this guy.)
I don’t know about you, but the idea that people like Steve Patterson are being touted as some sort of solution to the problem isn’t providing me with a lot of comfort. But then again, I’m not a smart guy like Gordon Gee.