Professor’s Perspective: Playing up the downside of an NCAA breakup

We all love our college sports — not only students, but also alumni and faculty. It’s a major part of American culture.
However, we should all be aware that a major change to the college athletic model is coming. And from the perspective of Rider University, it won’t be one that gets the administration in Alumni Gym to raise their cranberry-and-white pom-poms.
In the not-so-distant future, the NCAA (the governing body of college athletics from the Division I to Division III level) won’t exist as we know it. Perhaps within the next 10 years, the schools comprising the so-called five “power conferences” (Big 10, Pac 12, Big 12, ACC and SEC) will break away from the NCAA. They will form their own super-conference in order to get away from pesky NCAA rules like the ones limiting exposure coaches have to players and recruits, setting academic standards, and, yes, regulating possible compensation for student athletes.
Besides the NCAA rules, the power conference schools that make millions of dollars playing football at the highest level are not fond of sharing their piece of the pie. Ohio State, Texas, Michigan and Florida — the schools that annually have the biggest athletic budgets and generate the most revenue — see millions of dollars not going into their own pockets, but going instead to the NCAA, which then uses the funds to subsidize not just the rest of Division I sports, but even down to the Division III level.
As these football schools spend and make more, the financial pressures on them increase. And being part of the NCAA is a burden — a burden they currently are considering doing away with. The idea being floated around by those at the power conferences — and many in the media — is a complete breakaway from the NCAA. The schools would have their own football playoff system that would allow them to keep all the revenue, rather than share it with the other NCAA schools.
While most people are familiar with the NCAA, they may not know that there are other governing bodies in college athletics, such as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). So an association outside the NCAA doesn’t sound that far-fetched.
And it might not be just a separate football league and playoff. Eventually, there could be a different post-season college basketball tournament. Right now, once again, part of the hundreds of millions of dollars from the NCAA basketball tournament gets broken down into “units” and shipped off to more than 340 schools including Rider playing at the Division I level. Some of those units even trickle down to Division II and Division III.
Kentucky, Louisville and UCLA, among other schools, are of the mindset that they should not be sharing this money because they are the schools that attract the most eyeballs and get CBS to spend $1 billion on the media rights to broadcast the tournament.
These programs could easily break away and no longer share their winnings with less prolific programs.
A school such as Rider benefits immensely by being part of an association that also includes the Penn States and Alabamas of the world. The MAAC gets a team in the NCAA tournament, and its schools share in the dollars from that appearance. An NCAA tournament without Michigan State and friends would be a tremendous loss for the schools left behind.
If the big schools leave the NCAA, Rider and other schools may no longer see an incentive to play at the Division I level — there go the scholarships. Investments in college athletics would no longer be prudent for Rider if it is unable to piggyback on the most recognizable names, both financially and through the prestige and attention it gets by being associated with them.
Think about those ramifications next time you hear the president of USC or Florida State complain about the NCAA. If these schools get angry enough and leave the playground with their ball, Rider could be left on the sidelines.

-Dr. A.J. Moore
Assistant professor of journalism

Printed in the 5/3/13 edition.

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