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Last updated: Thu. Jun. 12, 2014 - 02:32 am EDT

COLUMN

IU athletic director wants power to make real change

NCAA reforms will widen rich-poor gap

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College athletic landscape is changing faster than you can say, Ed O'Bannon. From lawsuits to restructure to expansion to autonomy (at least for the five power conferences) to even a four-team national football playoff, tradition is going the way of the BCS.

Here is Indiana athletic director Fred Glass, in the middle of it without directing it, set to alter the way he does business.

Take, for instance, the concept of autonomy, which will enable the 65 schools that comprise the five major conferences – the Big Ten, the ACC, the SEC, the Pac-12 and the Big 12 – to make rules without the support of 286 other schools that compete in NCAA Division I.

These conferences make billions of dollars from TV deals (can you say the Big Ten Network) and more, and they want spend it as they see fit, without smaller schools hindering them.

Much of this -- such as paying the full cost of a college scholarship (an extra $3,000 for things such as food, laundry, movies and more) -- is to blunt the effect from some of the lawsuits (EA Sports, O'Bannon) as well as the threat of unionization.

Currently, athletes can't make money off their names, images and likenesses, specifically off of television appearances or the sale of jerseys and other sports paraphernalia. The NCAA and universities can. The O'Bannon suit alleges that's illegal, and that athletes should share in the profits.

The NCAA just settled the EA Sports suit by agreeing to pay $20 million (EA Sports will pay another $40 million) to former athletes who were featured in college sports video games.

EA Sports has stopped making such games.

Big 5 conference officials believe autonomy is the only way to preserve the amateur sports model without being forced into a pay-players scenario. Will it widen the gap between rich and poorer conferences? Without question, but that's not a power conference priority.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive has suggested that if the five major conferences don't get the authority they want (the NCAA board of directors will vote on it in January), they'll consider forming a Division IV just for them.

Meanwhile, the five mid-major conferences trying to hang on to relevance (Mid-American, American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Sun Belt Conference and Mountain West Conference), and retain an outside shot at making the football playoff, talk about trying to provide the same benefits, but without the resources to do it.

Good luck.

Anyway, Glass is all for autonomy, believing it can't come soon enough.

“I hope so. Now I'm not a great student of that. I stick to my knitting. But the sense of it is so compelling, I hope cooler heads will prevail and that kind of autonomy will be given to the Big 5. I think it's good for athletics and the student athletes.”

Glass said it's important the Big 5 conferences get the power to make necessary change.

“There is a lot of talk of change -- the unionization initiative at Northwestern, multiple lawsuits challenging aspects of the way intercollegiate athletics operate, change from within in terms of governance. To me it's only so much noise unless it will positively impact the experience of the student athletes.

“It doesn't do the Big 5 conferences any good to reorganize and get a lot of autonomy if we're not able to deliver some of the things I think need to be delivered for the well being of student athlete. Other athletic directors want that. We need to make sure we don't win the battle and lose the war. That's why major conferences will hold out -- to make sure if we do get the apparent power to make change, that we have the real power to make change so we can deliver more value to student athletes.”

What is that value?

“The ability to give the full cost of attendance. Give student athletes the money they need to get around. I'm not talking about paying them above the cost of being in school. I'm talking about the elusive pizza, laundry and cab money. The money that other kids get from their scholarships and grants in aid, but we're not allowed to give student athletes. We should be able to do that.

“There should be an educational trust that enables us to deliver on an undergraduate education even for kids who might have to leave school early. We can give them an opportunity to get better advice in a transparent atmosphere from legitimate agents on (professional) prospects for the future.

“Opportunities to benefit from the experiences they have -- for instance, why can't we buy tickets for them to experience a Broadway show when we're already in New York? Those kind of things that are common sense, but that don't happen when you get bogged down in the bureaucracy of the NCAA.

“Those are the kind of things I think we need to make sure we focus on, and not so much on who sits where and who's on what committee.”

That leads to the big question -- how do you pay for all that?

“We've addressed that,” Glass said. “Each institution is writing the numbers. There is a cost for all this stuff, cost for attendance, for expanded food service. Some we have to prioritize within our budgets. Other things are so large it would take some sort of pooled asset investment, perhaps from the reserved funds of the NCAA for things like long-term health insurance. That will have to be addressed.

“Most of these are important enough to prioritize from our individual budgets. That's challenging for a school like Indiana that is in a well-resourced conference while we're a relatively low-resourced institution. If we want to run with the big boys, we have to play with the big boys, and we'll find the money to do it.”

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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