Reporting Colin Hoggard
Today, Darren Rovell asked one of the most dangerous question in college athletics:
Remind me: What does the NCAA now do that the schools themselves can't do?—
darren rovell (@darrenrovell) October 22, 2013
A seemingly innocuous query, this serves as the lynchpin of the future of college sports. It’s the question, or rather the fear of the answer, that has resulted in a swift turnaround in the severity of punishments handed down by the NCAA, because the answer, is nothing. The investigations could easily by outsourced, the conferences want their schools performing well, for revenue purposes, and the meetings of school presidents and ADs under the NCAA banner would be equally as effective regardless of the meeting room or the logo on the stationary.
The NCAA, as it exists, has warts. Large ones. Ones that should be treated with lasers or acid, ones that should be rectified for the benefit of the student-athletes, the coaches and the schools. The issue, however, is many of these issues cost money to remedy. Money that smaller (and overextended) athletic departments don’t have. The gap between the haves and have-nots has exponentially grown in the era of large TV contracts, with every conference and school looking out for their own best interest, rather than figuring out a way to revenue share. it’s important to note this, because unlike professional sports leagues, there is little to no regard for the greater good in college sports these days.
Let’s pose Darren Rovell’s question another way… What can’t the small schools do that the big schools can? Form their own revenue generating league. Or more directly: What do the big schools need the small schools for? Nothing.
That’s where the NCAA comes in. It’s the tie that binds. It’s the entity that keeps university athletic departments from being run solely as corporations. It keeps the small schools relevant. And while there has been a media war on the NCAA for years now, what folks are actually pushing for is the destruction of college athletics as we know it. Gone will be Boise State, Northern Illinois, and Maized and Confused. Gone will be Davidson, VCU, Butler, and every future Cinderella story yet to be woven into the fabric of college athletics.
Three weeks ago, John Calipari spoke about just this issue:
“They’re going to go to a fourth division. There’s gonna be about 80 schools in that fourth division. You’re going to have to have certain requirements to be in the fourth division. Then those commissioners and presidents and ADs are going to look at each other like why are we giving this back to them, when we can do this ourselves? And there’s going to be a separation. … I think the fourth division will come in a year or two.”
Calipari’s nearly five minute monologue on the NCAA going forward makes a compelling case and as a coach, Cal focuses on current issues for his players, but the greater issue is the consolidation of power. If, or when, a break from the NCAA takes place, the schools under a new umbrella will form the most powerful sports league in America, surpassing the NFL. The newly formed association will virtually print money, while schools left behind may be forced to resort to bake sales. The gap will grow exponentially between the haves and the have-nots and by the time the wheels are in motion, there will be no going back. Almost overnight, proud programs will be turned into also rans. The newly formed league will boast the largest media rights contracts ever imagined. Their product will be phenomenal with all of the best talent, like the money, consolidated even further than the current landscape allows.
The NCAA undoubtedly has issues, but the focus should be on fixing those issues, not on trashing the NCAA. The rulebooks should be slimmed down, simplified and more reasonable. The question looms, however, why should the power conferences and schools be invested in fixing the NCAA, when there’s a pile of money and more control waiting for them if they’re patient for just a little while longer? It wouldn’t be hard to make a case that they would be better served sabotaging the NCAA, particularly with so many in the media willing to point the finger squarely at the ‘evil entity’ who has no regard for student-athletes. If all you care about is great matchups the new system will be for you, but if you love the college landscape as it is, or perhaps you root for a school that may not make the final cut, you may want to rethink your position before blaming the NCAA next time. Otherwise, the next time could be the last time.