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Is the NCAA too Big?

2013 August 14
by Phil Miller

Here’s a lengthy excerpt from an interview with Missouri AD Mike Alden published in the Columbia Daily Tribune:

Q: Should the NCAA take another look at its stance on amateurism?

A: I think it’s healthy to do that. I think if you step back and say, “No, we’re not going to touch that,” it’s a different age today. Now, you might not change anything. I have no idea. But should they step back and have the membership and others take a look at that and say, “Hey, do you really want to rethink this model?” Sure. It’s no different than when we relaxed all of those regulations on men’s basketball, allowing unlimited texting, and everybody thought, “Oh my gosh, this is a whole different thing.” Shoot, that’s worked out fine. It’s been good for the prospective student-athletes, it’s been good for the parents, it’s been good for the coaches, it hasn’t given anybody a competitive advantage, so I think that it’s really healthy to analyze your entire organization regularly, and I think amateurism would be an issue that you should look at and say, “Do we have the right model? Is there some tweaking, some adjustment we can make here.” …

It’s no different than asking, “Should we take a look at an additional division within Division I?” I happen to think that you should. I think that there are 60-70 schools that are different than everybody else in Division I. Different than anybody else and I think the time has probably come where we need to recognize that, that what goes on Michigan State is different than what they have to deal with at Eastern Michigan. It just is. What happens at Illinois is different than what they deal with at Illinois State. So let’s recognize it, let’s admit it, and let’s just say, “OK, let’s find the commonalities of those 60-70 schools and let them deal with some of the issues they need to deal with” while at the same time there are other common denominators that all of us have to deal with — whether it’s amateurism or whether it has to do with minimum hours toward graduation or standardized test scores, whatever that may be. All of us should have to deal with that. But I do think the time has come for us to look and to admit that there are 60 schools to 70 schools that are different than everybody else.

Q: That was going to be my next question was about the fourth division. Part of the problem at the core of this is that they in the last 20 years, made it so easy to move to Division I. Did you have a sense as that whole process was going on, that this was getting too big?

A: It’s funny you say that because 15 years ago I was the athletic director at Texas State, an FCS, I-AA football program. Their aspirations always were to be Division I — Division I-A. Now, I was there. I’m living this. Texas is right down the road. I’m living in a stadium of 95,000 people at that time. Now it’s over 100,000. I’m thinking, “It is so much different at Texas than it is at Texas State. Why should we even imagine that we should be Division I-A?” The answer generally that you’ll see is that we want to associate with I-A so we can look like them. We can get the afterglow effect, the ability to be able to be touched by it. So when you saw that happen and when you saw Louisiana-Monroe saying, “This is what we need to do,” when you saw Arkansas State saying, “This is what we need to do” and you saw UT-San Antonio. And again, that’s not to offend them. That’s just the reality of that.

There couldn’t be anything more different than night and day between Texas State and the University of Texas. There’s nothing. So when you saw the gravitating, going from 110 programs to 112 to 116 to now 120, whatever.

Mr. Alden makes a point that I have felt for a long time: the NCAA, especially Division 1/FBS, is simply too big.  The economic differences (i.e. willingness to pay for tickets, to donate, etc.) between the fan bases of, say, the top tiers and lowest tiers makes the current NCAA structure an unstable equilibrium.  What will it look like in 15 years?  Only the shadow knows.

2 Responses
  1. Ken D. permalink
    August 19, 2013

    The size of divisions is an interesting but minor point. “Amateurism” is a huge issue that goes to the core of the massive college football and basketball industries. These have evolved over more than a century with a strange set of rules that do not exist elsewhere in our society or economy. The supposed amateurism of athletes who in reality are NFL or NBA minor leaguers is a strange system and easy to critique; I for one surely do not think it should ever have been done that way. But if we try to impose “honesty” and now make those elite athletes explicit professionals, we give the system a heart transplant with unpredictable results. The same is true if they are allowed to cash in on things like autographs or video game rights. The colleges that have tolerated the current system because of plausible deniability that the players were anything other than student-athletes would be on the spot big time if asked to become owners of professional franchises. The honest thing to do would be to create separate explicitly professional minor leagues for elite 18 to 20 year old football and basketball players who prefer that to college, as exists in hockey and baseball. But that would threaten massive economic interests in the current college football and basketball industries, and so is not likely to happen soon. What we need is more people willing to step back and see this forest instead of obsessing over the trees.

  2. Andrew permalink
    August 21, 2013

    I don’t think you can deny the size of divisions plays a major role in the economic structure in the NCAA. This role is a major factor in the growing trend to pay student-athletes. More on this later. I think the statement about UT not being North Texas hits the nail on the head. The problem is all economical. The University of Texas would be afforded the luxury of paying all their student-athletes if we stripped away amateurism. Their profit, NOT REVENUE, but overall profit, along with Oregon, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Alabama (athletic powerhouse schools with a strong legacy and in the case of Oregon, a very wealthy alumnus Phil Knight), among others are able to operate in the black at a significant level. At the Athletic Department level, there are about 30 Departments across the country that are not in the red. That is not a large figure, but more of a problematic one the NCAA faces. Again, Mike Alden makes a valid point that their model is something unsustainable across Division I. But that is the problem. North Texas sees what UT, A &M, OU, even Texas Tech to an extent and wants a piece of that pie. It just doesn’t work.

    As a coach at a division II institution I see the ripple effect, even at this level. The Division I, II, & III models need to be shaped differently, but some institutional leadership neglects that fact.

    This leads to amateurism. Amateurism is interesting. The NCAA needs to address this issue in a major way as they operate in the fashion of a Cartel. If this were pure amateurism, there would be no financial gain. Yet, those in charge of the NCAA are always looking for new revenue streams to make them more profitable. So, they treat student-athletes (specifically football and basketball players due to their revenue based culture) as entities that are unable to receive compensation for the service they provide. These student-athletes are spun around like professional athletes–leaving little time for studying as they blaze through a busy travel schedule and extensive amounts of interviews from the media.

    Last point, I am not particularly fond of Johnny Manziel. Yet, I am saddened for him because his stature in the United States is something he isn’t prepared for at age 20. That isn’t the worst part. He can’t surround himself like professional athletes are able, despite his obvious family wealth, because it will lead to more investigations by the NCAA. Everywhere Manziel goes, attention will be on him, money will be made off him, all the while he gets treated like an entity until the NCAA and Texas A & M run it dry. You have to wonder if they couldn’t have handled it better.

    How does the NCAA change this? It is an extremely complicated dilemma, yet needs to be addressed immediately. I think Ed O’Bannon and company need to be thanked for bringing that issue to the forefront.

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