Is college athletics about to begin eating its own?

Haves vs. have-nots, the story of college sports.  More than anything, it’s the essence of what the NCAA is struggling with right now.

And here that is, boiled down to one short paragraph:

“Our world is not the same in a small program. We don’t have the resources,” said Rita Cheng, chancellor at Southern Illinois. “As long as we know that we can be competitive in the tournament and that our athletes can have opportunities, it is appropriate for us to say, `Your world is different than our world.'”

But what happens when the power conferences no longer care what you think is appropriate, Chancellor?

That’s why those top 65 BCS schools know they could get along just fine without their smaller buddies. They could form their own division, or their own NCAA. Those 286 give the NCAA Tournament some of its Cinderella charm. They also drag down those top 65 schools — the Big 12 among them — who are about to run the NCAA.

“There are a number of points of differentiation between the 65 of and the rest of Division I …” Bowlsby said. “There’s stuff we’ve tried to get done for years. It’s an accumulation of frustration.”

Frustration from the guy, mind you, who proclaimed the pros were “irresponsible” for not taking kids out of high school.  And who also had this to say about possibly shortening the basketball season to a one-semester sport:  “Some of our TV partners would be apoplectic to actually think about such things,” he said.  Not ’til you actually try to do something about it, bub.

The bravado may be false, but the NCAA’s dilemma is anything but.  How do you hold things together enough to keep your goose laying those golden eggs, while giving the big boys more freedom to spend the revenue they generate as they see fit?

Another quick story: One BCS conference official proposed a $55 per day per diem for players at bowl games. During the legislative process, the lower-resource schools balked. So that BCS administrator compromised, going backwards in increments of $5, sort of like an auction in reverse. Finally, he was bargaining dollar by dollar.

I don’t think that’s gonna cut it, quite frankly.

Making matters worse, they’ve finally woken up to the realization that their precious student-athletes aren’t operating in a vacuum.  Those kids may not understand where every penny goes, but they’re aware that there’s a bunch of cash being haggled over.

Emmert’s organization would certainly appear to have the money to make those changes. The NCAA is expected to report revenue of $912,804,046 for 2013 — more than 80 percent of that derived from the Final Four. Yet student-athletes are currently denied so much as a single penny from that golden pot, or from any other revenue stream, including jerseys which bear their numbers or video games where the real-life players strongly resemble the video images.

The riches are so vast that Donovan’s talk of free hamburgers makes one realize that the NCAA could theoretically buy a McDonald’s franchise for every player from all 68 men’s teams that began March Madness this spring, since a franchise runs between $1 and $2 million and the NCAA will report close to $1 billion in revenue for 2014.

“Of course you see it,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie of the contradictions present in the current NCAA model. “We weren’t getting paid (when Ollie was a Connecticut player), but you’d see our jerseys getting sold. Hopefully we can keep the integrity of the NCAA and the student-athletes, but I’d really like to see us provide health care, for instance, until they’re able to get a secure a job after college. Or maybe a 401K, something they can fall back on when their playing days are over.”

That sound you just heard was Rita Cheng choking.

I’ve said before that the real challenge behind postseason expansion was whether Delany, Scott, Slive and Company were up to the task of calibrating more playoffs without losing a penny of regular season revenue.  It looks like we may discover how good these guys are at keeping all the balls in the air sooner than I expected.


Filed under It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

14 responses to “Is college athletics about to begin eating its own?

  1. Scorpio Jones, III

    In response to your hedder question….Yep. That train has been and will continue to come right on down the track.

    The Titanic-iceberg analogy seems apt.

    The Big Boy Sorta Kinda College Football League brought to you by…(fill in the blank)


  2. RC

    Exactly why I enjoy watching the D-III playoffs every year: the purity of the game at that level. No scholarships, no big corporate sponsors, and likely no shot of any of the kids making it to The Show. Just a bunch of student-athletes, in the truest sense of that phrase, leaving it all on the field for the love of the game.


    • Russ

      Yep. Unfortunately I don’t have a D3 school to support.


      • RC

        I only have family/friend ties to a few of them, and have settled on the Purple Cows/Ephmen of Williams College. Join me! As REM used to sing- “Come on aboard, there’s lots of room on the bandwagon…”

        I also love that, almost without fail, at least one of those semifinal games is played in a blinding snowstorm. It just doesn’t get much better than that. As long as I’m watching it from the comfort of my living room, anyway…


  3. Russ

    It’s going to happen pretty quickly. Not sure if it will kill CFB but it’s going to change significantly.


  4. The other Doug

    The costs are about to go up because of the union and lawsuits. So, are the big school presidents willing to let those costs eat into their profits in order to maintain the current NCAA? Stop laughing. We all know they will simply stop sharing their revenue with the Little Sisters of the Poor.

    Can the BCS conferences have their own BB tournament and keep all the money?


    • Only if they leave the NCAA. Which I’m starting to think is a greater possibility than I once believed.


      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        I’ve been seeing that coming for at least 2 years. It’s only a matter of when. If the NCAA had a real leader at the top maybe the situation could be saved but with possibly the worst NCAA President in history in charge now, well……..


      • I’m beginning to wonder what comes first, the chance to expand the playoff to 8 teams, or the change to cut the little guys so that a 4 team playoff is made up only of the champions of the 4 conferences left competing at that level. If they can’t cut the conference back from the current 5 (assuming either the ACC or Big 12 would be the one gobbled up by the others, and the Maryland lawsuit making the ACC seem most vulnerable), then 8 so everyone gets their cut. But if we can splinter off the big boys and cull one conference in the process then ESPN will have a nice, tidy package to work with going forward. Exactly what they wanted all along.


        • AusDawg85

          Ahem…a 4 conference championships plus a winners playoff = 12 team playoff (with no at large bids). No way could they resist “wildcard” bids to bring the total to 16 somehow. Not when Jerry Jones would wave $$$ in there face to host them.


  5. DawgPhan

    Yeah it seems like the big schools are reading the writing on the wall.

    I also think that they are thinking that we could have avoided all of this with a $2k stipend and some health insurance and instead the entire system is in jeopardy.

    Didnt Emmert ever hear about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure?


  6. 69Dawg

    Every large organization has inherent problems due to the size. This is why a lot small companies that do great when they are small fail once they reach a certain size. The NCAA is a behemoth and to make matters worst it has too much economic diversity in it’s membership. Because of the money involved it has allowed smaller conferences to enjoy participation in Div I for basketball even if they don’t have football or if their football is in a lower Division. This structure has doomed them. SJIII said above the Titanic is a good analogy. Mine would be that Emmert is just rearranging the deck chairs and not stirring the ship. Also a ship the size of the NCAA is very hard to turn and the icebergs (law suits) appear quickly.


  7. 71Dog

    The end of college football as we know it is just around the corner. Colleges and universities will begin to spin off the show that is big-time football to semi-pro leagues. All of the familiar school names will attach to the teams but the stadiums will be private and players will be a mix of student athletes and non-student athletes. Players will be paid, will probably form unions, and the problems of not making grades/academic minimums will be over. Weaker programs/conferences will flow into a D-III, small TV revenue plan where players are truly amateur, scholarship athletes, and the feel is more club-like football. The super conferences (SEC, Big 10, PAC 10, etc.) will become unvarnished minor league conferences where players are groomed for the big leagues and where drug testing, background checks, grades, and academic schedules are not handicaps.