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Wood Selig appeared to be wound up.

"I don't like the mentality of, 'We're going to take our ball and move on,' " Old Dominion's director of athletics said Monday. "I don't think any of us need to be a bully or to feel bullied."

If Selig is agitated, you can't blame him. These are turbulent times in intercollegiate sports as the haves threaten to leave the have-nots even farther behind than they've been.

The concept of a level playing field was debunked again last week when Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive raised the possibility of an NCAA "Division IV" consisting of schools from the five biggest leagues.

In most places, Slive's comments would be characterized as a naked threat.

The unrest is a result of friction between the wealthiest schools and the less-wealthy over what sort of business model to follow in the future. The power five leagues are chafing at NCAA regulations that have the support of smaller-budget schools.

The rules must be relaxed, most people believe, to quiet the saber rattling by the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. The wealthy schools want a measure of autonomy from the NCAA to have more freedom to spend their fast-growing income. While ensuring that the rich continue to get richer, the big schools want to use their revenues to get out from under growing legal and public pressure by paying athletes stipends and offering them long-term health care.

The recent announcement by the Big 12 and SEC of record revenue distribution figures that will exceed $20 million at most schools this year further illustrates the disparity between the big conferences and the others.

To put those Big 5 payouts it in perspective, ODU receives "a little over a million" a year from Conference USA, Selig said.

"That number is going to keep going up for us, but as a percentage of our overall athletic budget," he said, "it pales in comparison to what schools from the big conferences are getting."

Lucrative TV contracts, bowl games and NCAA basketball tournament income create a torrent of money for schools from the big five conferences. And the revenues are going to increase even more dramatically with the growth of their own TV networks.

"Their distribution of $20 or $23 million per school is two-thirds of my entire athletic budget," Selig said.

About 3 percent of ODU's $33 million athletic budget, he said, is covered by revenue from C-USA, while some big-conference schools can expect 33 percent of their budgets to be supported by conference income.

"The gap is going to continue to widen, and we're OK with that," Selig said.

If the wealthiest conferences remain within the current NCAA alignment, as far as he's concerned, "they can go spend themselves into oblivion. That appears to be what they want to do."

Selig believes Division IV is a bad idea concocted by bullies, an idea that doesn't take into account the disparity even among some schools in power conferences. He questions whether the "media sound bites" we've heard from Slive and others really represent a consensus.

But even without the creation of an exclusive division for the moneyed few, the revenue figures are proof that a dramatic paradigm shift has come to pass. What does that mean for schools like ODU?

"It doesn't mean we have to throw in the towel and think we can't be competitive with them across all sports," Selig said. "Those five conferences can't lock down all the great student-athletes. And they need us to survive."

The reverse also is true: Division I schools from smaller conferences rely on power leagues to pay some of their bills. But what Selig objects to are the heavy-handed tactics in play.

In August, the NCAA board is scheduled to vote on the autonomy proposal of conference commissioners and other officials who exemplify the gross excesses of college athletics. Then it has to be approved by the majority of Division I schools at the NCAA convention in January.

In the meantime, the specter of Division IV hangs in the air as a warning to those who might want to challenge the push for autonomy.

"It's disheartening to think that the industry is behaving this way," Selig said. "Let's give each other a little bit of courtesy and say we're going to get there, we're going to work through it. But let's not have arbitrary deadlines. We can work through this without having threats."

Bob Molinaro, 757-446-2373,

Twitter @BobMolinaro


June 3, 2014


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