August 25, 2011

Strange Days in Collegiate Athletics

It is a strange time in NCAA Division I athletics.  The disconnect between football, reality and the rest of intercollegiate sports is a bit unnerving.

Early this summer, there started cries of needing to paying student-athletes and these cries seemed to be led by the football faction of NCAA Division I athletics.  I am not opposed to student-athletes receiving increased financial support, but it has to be in the form of an increase in the total of the room and board amounts in athletic scholarships and cannot be exclusive to one particular sport.  

Yet, those pushing the idea are under the impression that NCAA football is the Golden Goose of athletics and that by merely having a football team, the athletic department is guaranteed of financial success and by association, those football players should be paid in addition to their scholarships (simplistic argument, but captures the idea).

As the NCAA's own studies have demonstrated, this is a faulty impression from a cut and dry financial perspective.  Proponents of this belief will then point to the fuzzy economics of donations increasing and sponsorship dollars always pushing the schools into the black which sponsor DI football.  This is nebulous at best and begs the question how do NCAA DI schools which don't sponsor football survive?

I find it a bit hypocritical that football coaches are calling for paying of players, yet this has been the most grievous summer of NCAA violations with DI football teams; Ohio State, Michigan, North Carolina, Southern California, Miami, etc.  The coaches are Steven Segal of the 1990's (Above the Law, a wonderfully bad movie), and with the salaries they are being paid, maybe they just disconnect from the never ending player, booster, coach and academic scandals of recent years.

After visiting with a few other coaches in my department, we are under the impression that the NCAA Division I athletics of today, will not be anything recognizable in 5 years.  Massive conference changes are being driven by football teams and honestly, marginal football teams.  Colorado?  Texas A.M.?  

There is talk of schools forming football super conferences while other sports settle into regional conferences to save money.  I like watching football as much as the next person, but the thought of super football conferences reminds me of something else, let me think, what is it....oh yes, the NFL.  I really don't care to see the powerhouse schools playing each other each and every year based upon national rankings or political support.  

I have also heard mention of the power football programs, because they are getting tired of being reprimanded by the NCAA for what they perceive as minor or unable to really monitor violations, departing from the NCAA and forming their own governing body specific to the desires of the college football programs. In a sense, they have figured out the best way to beat the system is to form a new system. 

Again, Steven Segal, how did football become above the law and I am talking the federal law of gender equity?  I understand the sport is popular, but at what price glory?  The sport has one of the two lowest graduation rates in the NCAA, players seem to be constantly in the police reports and the football staffs have never been larger (if you are bored one day, take a look on the internet at the total number of staff members and creative titles in today's DI football programs!).  They travel in chartered planes everywhere, have catered meals everywhere, wear clothing which is currently being used by NASA, every home football game looks like a KISS concert in the early 80's, home stadiums used maybe 8 times a year have a plasma jumbo tron which the Space Shuttle can watch while in orbit, academic tutors are like auctioneers at Barrett -Jackson just in case a football player needs help thinking, and they don't even have to hold the water bottle when they are thirsty.  And this is approximated by what female sport, or sports, or the entity of every female sport within an athletic department?

There is just a suspension of reality, which university Presidents should be ashamed of; speaking of university presidents, my favorite one is the Ohio State president who 'joked' he was worried Jim Tressell would fire him!  A bit of a Freudian slip eh?

Once again, the proponents will argue that football makes all the money and to have this dynamic support will allow football to make even more money.  This is true for the Alabama's of the DI world but not for the U of Alabama Birmingham's of the world.  The more football perceives its importance, they more it will demand, the more it will spend and ultimately, the less money it will generate.  Yet, the rest of the sports are supposed to fall into line, don't complain, drive to their competitions and be grateful that the almighty football is paying for everyone's collegiate experience.

But this disconnect cannot exclusively be applied to football.  I just watched ESPN SportsCenter, and they provided highlights of Duke and Georgetown in basketball, but they were not playing each other because it is only August....they were in China!  Like the China that is located half the world away China! Are you kidding me?  I know they are private schools, but how are they able to afford a tour of China in today's economic climate and still stay within the parameters of equity?  Is the Volleyball team going to China?  What about the Soccer team?  

I also found it interesting that the game highlights I saw with Georgetown was actually a fight between them and the Chinese professional team they were playing.  Maybe I am a little dazed by the frenetic pace of my pre-season, but I thought a NCAA team playing contests against professional teams was a no-no?  I well could be wrong, because I do remember that sometimes college baseball teams will play exhibition games against pro teams, but it just does not taste right in this instance.

I bring this up, because Basketball has a superb "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality.  Duke and Georgetown went this summer, and North Carolina State and George Mason will go next summer because Duke and Georgetown did it this summer.  All this costs money, a lot of money.  The resources in a tight economy have to come from somewhere and we know it is not going to come from football.  This does not leave too many other options to 'find' the money to 'help' out basketball.  In situations like this, the lowest on the ladder ends up supporting those standing on top.

All of this lends itself to what I am calling the Strange Days of NCAA Division I athletics.  The economy is still in tough times, Olympic Sport (politically correct way of saying every other sport but football and basketball) college coaches are constantly being told by athletic directors budgets don't allow it, yet the Y chromosome twins are immune from reality. 

The reality of the bottom line is very real, and must be paid.  Payment will not come from the Princes, but rather the maidens.  Strange because things have stopped making sense and have become a popularity contest with the supposed mature adults (presidents, athletic directors, etc) abdicating control. 

My prediction is that the look of collegiate sports will be changing dramatically within the next 3 to 5 years and women's sports will be the net loser of this new landscape.

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