Should the NCAA recuse itself from college football? – Daily News

It should be no secret that in college sports, football drives the bus. At most schools that participate, and virtually all Power Five conference institutions, it is the sport that uses the most resources but brings in the most revenue from gate receipts, media rights, merchandising and sponsorships. It is the most high-profile sport, the one that begins the academic year, the one that is used to keep alumni and donors on board.

It is also the sport that has become a fiercer recruiting battleground than ever, thanks to the new landscape of name, image and likeness payments and the gaping loophole filled by booster collectives, who create NIL deals to help lure recruits. Hypocrisy abounds, and the seeming market value of top prospects makes it even more clear that even in the less-restrictive current environment, most college football players – who are essentially serving apprenticeships for a chance at the NFL – are dramatically underpaid for the labor they are providing.

Maybe it’s time to go even further than changing the rules. Maybe it’s time to get big-time college football out of the grasp of the NCAA and make it a separate entity, with its own economic structure.

Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and clinical associate professor of history at Arizona State University – and the person we quoted in Wednesday’s column regarding the potential change at the top of the NCAA – believes that since football programs in many cases have already separated themselves from the rest of campus, maybe it’s time to go all the way: A new association with a new leader, a more sensible rulebook and, specifically, a healthy cut of the revenue for the players, paid directly by the schools.

It’s quasi-professional already. Let’s let all of the participants benefit, openly.

“Power Five football is unique in the world,” she said in a phone conversation this week. “The scale of the money and the power and the cultural obsession with Power Five football … it is insane that football players aren’t sharing in the billions of dollars from that industry.

“It needs to be its own thing. And football athletes need 50-50 media rights revenue sharing.”

The NIL revolution, and the lack of leadership the NCAA has shown in so many areas, has opened the door for innovation few might have believed possible even a decade ago.

The Knight Commission, a group of current and former university presidents, chancellors and administrators and former college athletes created to explore reform of what has become a $14 billion industry, has suggested spinning off Football Bowl Subdivision programs into a separate organization, though stopping short of a compensation model. Others have made similar suggestions, and why not? We saw in 2020, when conferences went their own ways in football scheduling in the midst of COVID-19, that the NCAA has abrogated any leadership of the sport.

Conference commissioners now have most of the power – and as we noted the other day, they usually use it in self-serving ways.

Closer to home, the California State Senate – which, along with the Assembly, unanimously passed the “Fair Pay To Play Act” in 2019 and swung the door wide open for NIL compensation – is pondering SB-1401, which is currently in the Appropriations Committee and would create a revenue-sharing agreement between universities and athletes in football and basketball.

I can hear the protests now. What about Title IX and gender equity concerns? What about the “Olympic sports,” i.e., anything that isn’t football or basketball? What about the prevailing wisdom that the latter sports’ revenues, and particularly their media rights money, help pay for the rest of an athletic program?

There are two factors, Jackson said.

First, removing football from the equation would actually be beneficial in observing the equal-opportunities spirit of Title IX, since football’s huge roster sizes wouldn’t skew the participation numbers (and might keep some men’s Olympic sports alive). Second, the way non-revenue sports are run and funded isn’t always an effective model for developing U.S. Olympic athletes.

Jackson noted a conversation she had with Rocky Harris, who now runs USA Triathlon and before that had worked for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans and had been the COO of ASU’s athletic department.

“His mission is to serve young athletes, and he’s convinced that the mission of college sports is not to serve young athletes,” she said. “It’s almost like Olympic development by accident. … The NCAA should only be one piece of a broader puzzle. And that hasn’t been the case, in part because of the money and the power and the way it’s designed.”

Consider this, as well: The U.S. Olympic movement and its national teams – and, in many cases, foreign Olympic sports federations – tap into the U.S. intercollegiate system to develop athletes. So do the NFL, NBA and WNBA, and to a lesser extent MLB, the NHL and MLS.

So if college football is the primary developer of prospects for the NFL, shouldn’t that multi-billion dollar industry pay for the privilege? Likewise, shouldn’t other professional leagues and Olympic sports organizations provide monetary support for similar services rendered?

The NCAA’s control of college football began to loosen in March of 1984, when the Supreme Court ruled in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma that by controlling TV rights and the number of appearances teams could make, it was violating antitrust laws. Over the past three-and-a-half decades, the universities and their conferences have filled the widening power vacuum.

And by now it should be obvious. College football doesn’t exist for the players and hasn’t for a long time. It exists for administrators, for alumni, donors and fans, and for sponsors and media partners.

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