Stewart Mandel has a good summary of how college athletics has gotten itself into its current predicament:
Attempting to legislate a level playing field is seemingly reasonable. Unfortunately, it’s not reality. Even without “tangible benefits” (though I’d argue NFL-caliber weight rooms and decadent training tables are tangible benefits), lesser-funded schools aren’t competing for elite prospects as it is. By my count, recruits in last year’s Rivals250 signed with 51 different schools. All but four — who went to Boise State, BYU, USF and UCF, respectively — signed with members of the five power conferences or Notre Dame. Even within the power conferences, there’s a pecking order: Kansas is not beating out Oklahoma for a prized defensive tackle; Wake Forest is not competing head-to-head with Florida State for the next Jameis Winston.
If the NCAA’s members had embraced that reality sooner, maybe they could have provided more benefits and potentially fended off some of these attacks. It’s certainly the driving force behind the current move to give the five power conferences legislative autonomy over certain issues. Plenty of smaller Division I schools, particularly those that don’t compete in FBS football, aren’t keen on possibly putting themselves at a formal disadvantage. But we’ve reached a point in NCAA history where athlete welfare is finally starting to take precedence over competitive equity in some circles.
I might question that “finally starting” bit. The reality is that athlete welfare concerns are being addressed at a glacial pace.
Back in October 2011, the board approved a stipend that would have given athletes up to about $2,000 per year to cover expenses beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees. Two months later, it was shelved amid opposition from full Division I membership.
Two and a half years to ponder something that the NCAA leadership fully supports? It didn’t take conferences that long to realign and make new TV deals. (Shoot, TCU went through three conferences in a matter of weeks.)
They’ve fought each other as much as they’ve been fighting to preserve their business model, aka amateurism.
”The group of five would argue we’re the ones being sued and attacked,” said Morgan Burke, Purdue’s athletic director and a key broker in helping find a consensus on the new structure. ”The other schools would say, ‘Yeah, but we’re competing against you in the championship.”’
As much as they want to make it sound as if their struggle is noble, it’s all about the money. It’s always about the money. They move when they feel their business interests are at stake. That’s why nothing much has happened yet on the athlete welfare front. Oh, sure, they sense a threat. But they’re still willing to fight, if that what it takes. Even if it means spending serious money to do that.
For example, NCAA finances are as difficult to sort through as the numbers are high, and the figures can vary hugely with the bias of those reporting them. Most media outlets glibly equate “unionization” and “compensation” with professional salaries for NCAA athletes, but the association knows Huma isn’t pursuing any such thing. The only big number that concerns him is the $600-plus million announced as this year’s NCAA war chest for legal and legislative expenditures. “That’s precisely where the student-athlete is truly amateur,” he says. “You’re talking 18-, 19-year-old kids, a ‘turnstile’ employee, changing at minimum every four years, going up against that $600-plus million.” [Emphasis added.]
The NCAA is prepared to spend over half a billion dollars fighting changes that it ostensibly favors instead of funding the changes themselves. Is it any wonder that many refuse to take Mark Emmert’s reform talk seriously?