Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The NCAA didn't so much abdicate the throne when it comes to major college football Thursday as it threw its crown to the torch-carrying villagers and said, "You can have it. I'm going to the lake."
In the first paragraph of a news release announcing a "restructuring" (read: demolition), the NCAA declared that schools from the five power conferences "will govern themselves" and "student-athletes (will) have a vote at every level of decision making."
I know. Many of you are bored by these kinds of stories and your only real concern is: "How does this affect the Clemson game?" So let me translate the NCAA's two declarations for you.
- To the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12: "If you think this is so easy, here are the keys to the sandbox."
- To the student-athletes, past and present: "Please stop suing us."
What happened Thursday - by a NCAA board of directors vote of 16- 2, with the Ivy and Colonial Leagues providing pipsqueak opposition - has the potential to be a game-changer for college athletics. For the first time, schools in the five major conferences, including Georgia and Georgia Tech, can write their own rules, set their own agenda, determine the value of a student-athlete's scholarship (cost of attendance) and decide how to divide the revenue.
That's the good news, in theory.
That's also the bad news, in potential.
There are 65 universities in the five richest conferences. That's about the only thing most have in common. They're spread out all over the nation, from Los Angeles to Iowa City to Boston to Starkville. They have varying revenues, expenditures and, most of all, agendas.
Georgia and Georgia Tech sit only 70 miles apart. They couldn't be more different.
Imagine a board room with representatives from Texas, Alabama and Ohio State on one side of the table and Duke, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest on the other. They all have to decide what value to place on "cost of attendance." We're already hearing a wide range of stipend estimates from various schools: $2,000 to $5,000.
Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski said last week that for 20 schools, any estimated cost would be "No big deal. Bring it on." But he said the other 45 have "no wiggle room."
How confident can we be that these 65 entities can function as one, making decisions on important matters like scholarship values, scheduling mandates and - who knows, given the way things have unraveled in the NCAA's investigative arm - policing rules?
"I'm hopeful," Bobinski said. "I wouldn't say ?confident' is an appropriate word."
If schools don't agree on a cost-of-attendance number - and they won't - they'll be forced to settle on a "cap" or a "range." So what's the chance an athlete picks School A over School B because it pays more?
Haves, this way. Havenots, that way.
Georgia AD Greg McGarity agreed reaching a consensus may be problematic, but added, "It took about 18 months to get to this point. It's going to take a few months to sift through everything."
It's possible this is the beginning of something that saves college sports. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive: "This is an opportunity for historic change in college athletics."
It's also possible this is where things jump the rails. Imagine 65 independent contractors building the Acropolis and somebody has to tell Nick Saban that the Parthenon is not his private palace.
This shouldn't be taken as a defense of the NCAA. The task of governing major college athletics outgrew the NCAA long ago. It has paid only lip service to improving academic standards. It denied being more concerned about athletics and revenue streams than academic reforms, even while approving expanded schedules and inking television and endorsement deals that affirmed the contrary.
The NCAA lied about illegally using player likenesses for profit in video games and jerseys. It has already taken a beating in the courts in some suits and some anticipate it will fall in the biggest one of all: The Ed O'Bannon class action suit. (The trial ended in June and awaits the decision of a federal judge.) The committee on infractions has botched a number of investigations and has been inconsistent in disciplinary decisions.
There are concerns the increased scholarship values will cause some schools to drop non-revenue-producing sports as they attempt to balance the books. Conforming to Title IX could be an issue.
If the power five schools decide not to schedule games outside of their gang of 65, schools like Georgia State and Georgia Southern will lose six-figure paydays. The Panthers have accepted beatings from Alabama (twice), Tennessee and West Virginia because they need the relative appearance fee.
Some rejoiced Thursday. The NCAA has botched this for too long, they say, and the power five deserved more autonomy. But I'm not sensing many shared agendas. I'm envisioning Yosemite Sam with a fresh box of Acme dynamite.
Hopefully this ends better for them than it did for Sam.