NEW YORK ― Looming changes to NCAA governance — particularly at the Division I level — were the hot topic at the IAF conference.
“Clearly we’re on the verge of something,” said Georgia Tech Athletic Director Mike Bobinski on day two of the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. Part of a panel that discussed College Sports Business Headlines of the Day, Bobinski was weighing in on the topic that had dominated day one of the conference — upcoming changes to the NCAA.
“You’ve got to deal with process first and get the structure right, but then I think philosophically we need to make sure that we’ve defined what the NCAA’s appropriate role is going to be,” said Bobinski, referring to expected revisions that will allow the top five conferences to have more freedom, especially in terms of expenditures for student-athletes, most notably covering full cost of attendance.
“Is it championships? Is it safety and well being? Is it administrative, an agreed-upon set of rules?” he added.
Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said clearly the landscape has changed and this review is a good idea.
“If you have a governing body, what is the function of that governing body? What businesses should it be in, what shouldn’t it be in? How does it apply to individual sports? The NCAA covers a lot of sports and each sport has its own issues and should have its own processes for streamlined decision making,” Ackerman said.
With five conferences, clearly the largest and wealthiest due to football revenue, all Division I institutions want be assured they have access to championships in all sports in which they compete.
Mark Lewis, executive vice president, championships and alliances, NCAA, said it’s been 12 years since the NCAA looked at its structure. He said there’s no question as to whether the NCAA will have championships. The organization is still about sports and competing, but how it’s organized and administered are to be refined.
Questions were submitted by text, app, Twitter and the web, and the moderator, SportsBusiness Journal executive editor Abe Madkour, addressed several different topics with the panelists.
There were questions about college basketball and whether there may be any changes to the regular season. With the popularity of college football surging, there was a question about moving the start of basketball season later, so there’s no overlap.
Ben Sutton, president, IMG College, said he likes the second semester idea, but the general consensus was March Madness is too deeply branded to move to April and it doesn’t seem likely the season will be shortened. Other changes can be considered to create more impact for regular season. Bobinski said that coaches shouldn’t shield teams from the best possible opponents because letting powerful rivalries play out generates interest.
Is there any chance of combining the men’s and women’s Final Fours?
“There’s always talk,” said Lewis. “There’s always new perspective and new ideas.” As bids start for the 2017 men’s and women’s Final Fours, possibilities can be explored. The student-athletes will have a voice.
Will the popularity of college football continue? The panelists said yes, although concerns over safety must be vigilantly addressed.
There were questions about how to get more students to attend sporting events at their institutions. Bobinski said student attendance promotes a feeling of community and social interaction. It also gives student-athletes a sense of belonging beyond what they do on the playing field.
“Part of what builds that connection between the student body and a team is that those are your classmates,” said Lewis. “As we put more and more demands on the student-athletes — whether it’s online classes or travel for games — we’ve got to be careful to make sure that we don’t have that be just a team of people that the students don’t relate to. Part of it is they see them on campus, they interact with them.
“That human relationship is what makes college sports special,” he added.
“Anybody that’s moved into an athletic director job anywhere around the country, I promise you has had the conversation with university leadership about how do we get the athletes more involved in the general student population,” said Bobinski. “We’ve isolated our athletes over time as we’ve demanded more of them.”