If Emmert’s testimony yesterday about player compensation was little more than a combination of sanctimonious wishful thinking and denial, his defense of competitive balance in college football was downright dishonest.
Emmert said amateurism is essential to competitive balance in college sports. While he has supported reforms such as cost-of-attendance increases — though he wouldn’t call them stipends — he added that requiring further compensation to athletes would result in some schools having to drop other sports programs or drop out of Division I altogether, which require schools to offer 16 sports in order to qualify.
He even went to the extent of citing Alabama’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe and Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State in support of that. (Nevermind that losses like those are so rare that it’s easy to remember them by name.)
But this is where my bullshit detector’s needle broke:
“To convert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it into minor league sports,” Emmert said. “And we know that in the U.S. minor league sports aren’t very successful either for fan support or for the fan experience.”
Professional minor leagues aren’t the minor leagues because their players are paid. They’re minor leagues because their teams are under the control of parties who don’t have a stake in the outcome of their seasons.
Back in the 1930’s Branch Rickey came up with a revolutionary innovation, the baseball farm system. Twice, Commissioner Landis freed a number of players in Rickey’s system from their contracts because he opposed turning the minor leagues into vassal states of major league teams. Read this exchange between the two to understand what the real issue is with minor league play and fan interest. Landis’ final observation – “I think it is as big as the universe. This is just as important in the Three-I League as it would be in the National or American Leagues.” – is the crux of what defines being a minor league.
It’s not about pay. It’s about independence. Until the NFL can dictate to Mark Richt during the week before the Georgia Tech game that Todd Gurley is being brought up to play for one of its teams, Emmert is completely off base with his analogy.
But skip past that. If you want something in the here and now that exposes the phoniness of Emmert’s concern about competitive balance, check out one of the impending fruits of the Big Five’s push for autonomy, a proposed change to the transfer rules.
The wealthiest college football conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Conference, Pac-12, Southeastern Conference) are willing to work with all of Division I to come up with a solution, but they also want the power to make their own transfer rules if need be as part of an autonomy structure the NCAA is moving toward.
If you think this is making mid-major schools nervous, give yourself a nickel.
That worries the schools outside those powerful leagues, concerned they’ll be in danger of losing their best players to the Big Five.
Most of the areas in which the Big Five conferences are seeking autonomy are related to how schools spend money on athletes. Transfer regulations are seen more as purely competitive-balance issues.
”I still haven’t gotten a good answer as to why transfer rules have been included in the autonomy bucket,” said SMU athletic director Rick Hart, whose school plays in the American Athletic Conference, one of the other five leagues in the top tier of college football knows as FBS.
I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one, Rick. Besides, I think you already know the answer, even if it isn’t what you’d call a good one. Or the one the Big Five commissioners – or Emmert, for that matter – will give when they enact their own version.
UPDATE: More thoughts on competitive balance here.