CRAWFORD | Time for NCAA to exert influence, or lose it - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Time for NCAA to exert influence, or lose it

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- NCAA President Mark Emmert has called a summit of the NCAA's executive committee and Division I board for next month in Indianapolis to discuss the structure and leadership of college sports.

He has done this for a single reason: To try to save his organization.

During a series of media day talks, major-conference commissioners have essentially said they've had enough. The message coming from them is that they're tired of having actions dictated by schools with less money in smaller leagues.

The catalyst was last year's failed attempt to pass a measure that would allow schools to pay athletes a stipend for "full cost of admission." Right now, a full scholarship accounts for room, board and books, plus few extras. The new stipend would have allowed athletes to have some money, $2,000, on top of that for things like parking passes, lab fees and the like. But here's the catch. The stipend was available only to athletes on full scholarships already, or those with a combination of athletics and other financial aid equal to a full scholarship -- which means that some of the athletes who actually need more money to pay for school were left out.

Emmert, in an interview with the Indianapolis Star, said, "There's a need to recognize there are Division I schools with $5 million athletic budgets and $155 million athletic budgets, and trying to find a model that fits all of them is the enormous challenge right now."

Emmert is responding to challenges issued by the power-conference commissioners, and it's easy to understand why. If the NCAA loses those schools and conferences, it loses what little relevance it still has on the national scene.

But by allowing these conferences to call the shots, Emmert and the NCAA already are in peril. The time has come for someone to draw a line in college sports, and to tell the power conferences that they either will play on an amateur collegiate model or they will cross over into semi-professionalism -- and all that entails.

Major conference schools tell us that players need more money because the cost of college includes expenses that fall between the cracks of the aid they already get.

But what about this? In baseball, schools must spread 11.7 scholarships among a limit of 27 players. If the major-conference schools are spending money, how about pushing for head-count status for all sports? How about paying the way of all the athletes?

College tennis programs get only 3.6 scholarships. Can you imagine?

Here's why there's no push to fully fund the vast majority of top-level NCAA sports -- they don't make money. Why dish out expensive scholarships for sports that don't return the investment?

Now, here's what these major conference athletic directors need to think about -- if you're only going to hand out money based on how much money a sport takes in, you've abandoned your educational and amateur principles.

Of course, all of us understand, college sports abandoned those long ago. But to do it in a formal sense, to break away and begin to award extra money without formally paying for the education of athletes who are playing for your school, puts the stipend that is paid in the gray area of pay, not the solid area of education.

I'm sure all athletes would welcome the stipend. I have nothing against the stipend. But if these major conferences want to pay it, they should be required to (and in the NCAA sense, be allowed to) fully fund all their varsity sports first.

That's a much more expensive proposition for these schools, but they seem to be in a spending mood, so let's allow them to spend it. Set up a new NCAA division and let them have at it.

This stipend business is, for the most part, a way for colleges to funnel more money to basketball and football players. A number of athletes in other sports would be eligible, but not all.

From a public standpoint, here's my question. Why should the public pick up the tabs for portions of all these other athletes to attend school (with Pell grants, or other Federal financial aid) if schools are able and willing to start paying more for athletics? Why should these major-conference programs not, if they're going to break away, be compelled to meet all of the educational expenses of their athletes first, before getting into giving their most visible athletes more money.

Moreover, if the majority of stipend money winds up in the hands of athletes in the sports that make the most money, isn't that rewarding athletes based on market forces?

Now, this is America. And we live in a free-market economy (more or less, for now).

But college sports are different. They're not a free market. They're an educational enterprise.

I'll stop for a moment to let you stop laughing.

But here's the bottom line. If these major conferences want to take the last, irrevocable step into the world of business, I want them to take the first, deep plunge into the world of taxation.

There's no reason, if their spending and actions are based on making more money that winds up being plunged back into their most profitable sports, that they shouldn't be taxed on that profit.

Government leaders are in no mood to get involved in NCAA squabbles. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell told me last year that he did not support any Federal involvement in the affairs of the NCAA.

But all of these are questions that should be on the table if they want to have a serious discussion of where college sports are headed.

Emmert and the NCAA have two choices -- drive this discussion, or get out of the way.

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