Thursday, June 10, 2010

What the NCAA should do.

First, let's get one thing absolutely clear: no way this actually happens. This is a fantasy. But it is a workable solution to the mess that is collegiate athletics. I realize my last post might have been a little confusing. Here, I'll try to dive deeper into the issue and provide an answer rather than more questions.

I mentioned that USC has been sanctioned by the NCAA. Fine. A slap on the wrist. Here is the current scenario for the Trojans: they vacate a few wins. Still doesn't erase the fact that they were dominant between 2004-2009. They lose a few scholarships. Fine, but this hurts future players that had nothing to do with Reggie Bush just as much as it sets the program back. As much as I disdain Kiffin, he doesn't deserve to suffer for crimes commited under Carroll. I understand the whole institutional accountability thing, but this type of punishment hurts some of the wrong people in the institution. They won't be able to go to bowls for a while. Let's say they are at BCS-level for the next couple of years (which they probably wouldn't be every year anyways, given the departure of Carroll, and the rise of the rest of the Pac-10), which means they lose some millions over the few years. Yeah, that hurts, but they'll recover.

Why is all that a slap on the wrist? Because when Bush played for USC, they WON. They won national titles. They won Heisman trophies. They can take that away from Bush, but you can't take back the memory. They sold jerseys. They recruited new athletes. They made millions off of Bush, and the money that they will lose from these sanctions is a pittance compared to what the school has made the last decade.

And why does USC do all this? Well, they obviously like to win. But that is only half of the answer. And that is a problem. Sports should be about winning, but as professional leagues and now, the NCAA, have shown us, there is a nasty "business" side. Officials at USC are concerned with winning because of the money they get, from ticket sales to TV revenue to merchandise. Also, winning increases the slice that USC (and the rest of the PAC 10) get from the NCAA, especially when proportionally compared to the take of other teams (like the Mountain West). The people involved in the business of college athletics want to win, but they want to make money more. It is telling that the highest paid coach in college basketball has never won anything (but has put two schools on probation).

So that's now out in the open. Money is a big part of college athletics. And for good or bad, it is there to stay. So what should we do about it? Make it equitable. Let me explain.

In my last post, I mentioned the current conference power-plays. They are based on Big-10 commissioner's revenue system utilizing a league television contract. This article by Dan Wetzel says it all: What the NCAA needs to do is to dump the broken conference system it has now and completely restructure college football. Right now, we have a bunch of independent conferences that get together for a busted BCS party at the end of the season. Let's cut the crap. This is the National Collegiate Athletics Association. And there is nothing "national" about what I just described. So how about this:

Keep the conferences. But standardize them. Make them the same size. Make them competitively balanced. No more Boise State, Utah, and TCU on the outside. But TCU in the Big 12. Put BSU and U of U in the Pac 10. Make all the conferences 12 teams. Stage a conference championship. Have a national TV contract. Negotiating as a the entirety of college football will force networks, bowl sponsors, everyone to cave into whatever the NCAA wants. The pie gets huge, and everyone wins. Then when bowl season comes, you have a national 16-team playoff and bowl games for the rest. Why do you think the bowl games make so much money and the schools see so little of it? They are bargaining with the BCS (aka old college chancellors against hardened business veterans) as a divided group. Think of what the NCAA could do with unity.

So that's the first part of it. Massive payoffs through better TV contracts, fans can see more national games (potentially, any national game). Now, what to do with the windfall? Simple. Split it evenly. Yup, you read that right. The biggest argument against splitting the money completely evenly is that the big-time schools that play the big time games earn a larger portion of the money deserve that money. And that is completely baloney. The big-time schools have to play someone. And it is so touching that they would stoop to beat (I mean lose to) small schools like Boise State. Thing is, this isn't professional sports where good teams deserve their money. This is college athletics which in part is federally sponsored. You know all those insolvent athletics programs? Who foots the bills for that?

Why would equitable sharing work? As Wetzel mentions in his article, the last major source of college sports revenue is football TV contracts. Every school would have more. Inequitable sharing would be like the federal government paying for better research facilities at USC than at Utah. It doesn't make any sense. Are we trying to make sure that smaller schools can never have productive athletic programs (yes)? Schools would of course be able to raise as much as they want through boosters and schools would still get stadium revenue from home games, but this would drastically even the field even while providing for the powerhouse programs. It's not like under these conditions Alabama or Texas or Florida are all gonna suck: good players will still want to play at high profile schools, except now they will be playing better competition, which is a win for everyone...except for those people in charge to whom the money currently flows.

This could work. It's simple and effective. It promises constant revenue without the need to cheat for money. And if a school does cheat? Cut its portion of the check. Simple as that. USC? You're portion of the football pie has been halved for the next 3 years. How 'bout them apples? But I digress. This is what makes sense, and is what college sports needs. You make the call.

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