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.