The landscape in the world of college athletics has never been described better than with the words of one of the most respected and astute philosophers of our era, Pogo. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I think if you surveyed administrators from the non-power 5 schools, Pogo’s quote would pretty much explain their feelings toward their situation in the NCAA. In the old days, all legislation passed or failed based on the concept of one vote, one school. With the change of governance structure to a representative model, the feeling of having some say (just a little) as to the direction of the NCAA for non-power 5 schools drifted into the sunset. Without question, the new governance structure created a bifurcated system of those that tell the others what is going to happen and those that that grin and bear it.
Two occurrences in the last month just bring the reality of the bifurcated system into focus. All you have to say is Illinois State. The Redbirds men’s basketball team finished the season 26-6 with an RPI of 33, with two of their losses to one of the best teams in the country, Wichita State. Apparently, they were never in serious discussion for a spot in the field of 68 with the rationale that they had only one top 50 win (they only played one top 50 team, Wichita). The conundrum, of course, is that they cannot get anyone outside their conference who is in the top 50 to play them. Furthermore, the chances for them to get a power 5 team to play them in Normal, Illinois are about as good as winning the Powerball. Clearly, the movement to use “top 50 wins” as a major factor in the selection process for all intents and purposes pretty much eliminates mid-majors from consideration into the field. With the composition of the committee being 70% from FBS schools, it only makes sense for the committee to use criteria for selection that leans to favor FBS schools.
The second head-scratcher for the non-FBS schools was the receipt from President Emmert of an email on Friday February 3 around 11 pm that stated, “Eleven NCAA Division 1 conferences and the NCAA agreed to create a nearly $208.7 million fund for the benefit of current and former NCAA Division-I Basketball and Football Bowl Subdivision football student-athletes to settle the monetary claims portion of the grant-in-aid class action lawsuit.” This email shortly after the completion of the NCAA Convention was indeed surprising considering not one word was uttered regarding this decision to drain the entire reserve fund of $208 million during the convention. Additionally, considering there are 32 Division 1 conferences why would only “eleven conferences and the NCAA” agree to this course of action without any discussion or input from the other 21 conferences.
It makes considerable sense for the NCAA to expend the majority of the reserve to offset the cost for basketball considering 81% of the NCAA revenues are derived from the rights agreement with Turner/CBS for the basketball championship. The next biggest piece of the NCAA revenue pie is 11% from championships of which most comes from the men’s basketball championship. (When I was on the NCAA Championship Cabinet, the only championships that operated with net revenue and not a net loss were men’s basketball, baseball, and wrestling. Men’s hockey and Men’s lacrosse were close.)
My question is, “Why would the NCAA use the reserve to offset the cost of FBS football?” FBS football is the only sport I know where the NCAA does not operate and manage the championship. Years ago, the football powers decided to operate the bowl system outside the confines of the NCAA to insure all the revenue went directly to the conferences and schools. When the national playoff was created, the operation, management and more importantly the revenue all went to the CFP (formerly, revenue went to the BCS) to distribute as they saw fit. Therefore, the NCAA did not receive revenues from the bowls or the playoff system. Clearly, that was the CFP’s decision, but now it is hard to swallow that the NCAA should drain their reserve for FBS football when they did not contribute anything to those revenues. What we have is 351 schools (those playing D1 basketball) funding the football piece of the lawsuit when only 129 play FBS football. Seems a little disingenuous. No reason to believe that because 8 of the 12 of the Division 1 representatives on the NCAA Board of Governors hang their hat at FBS playing schools, that alignment had any impact on the final decision to offset approximately $110 million of the FBS portion of the lawsuit.
After speaking with Scott Bearby, Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel (NCAA), it was clear the rationale for the decision to fund the FBS portion was to settle the lawsuit. However, the last time the NCAA got whacked by the courts for their restricted earnings coach policy, each of the institutions had to pony up to offset the settlement cost. This time the 11 conferences and the NCAA decided to drain the coffers. I would think the only fair, ultimate resolution would be for the NCAA to settle the lawsuit but then have the CFP Administration contribute a small percentage of the bottom line of the bowl and national championship revenues to replenish the NCAA reserve fund which now is going to be used to provide cost of attendance payment to FBS football players dating back to 2010. Under this scenario, all the folks who help generate the reserve fund will be the ones who have a fair access to the fund, not a disproportionate distribution to some and not others.
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Dr. Richard Sander, led Virginia Commonwealth’s athletic program for 20 years, and was introduced as ETSU’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics in 2013. Prior to his time at VCU, Sander served as Assistant Athletic Director and was responsible for athletic fundraising at Memphis State University (now The University of Memphis). Sander earned a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1968. He received a M.S. in Physical Education from Xavier University in 1974, and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Cincinnati in 1980.
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