On Tuesday night, Florida Atlantic fans left their comfortable accommodations in Boca Raton to spend a short Christmas in New York, proudly wearing their red jerseys and jerseys to cheer on the Owls in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. FAU earned an invitation to the prestigious event thanks to its participation in the Final Four a year ago, not to mention its potential this year thanks to a mostly healthy roster from that national semifinal appearance. At The Garden, the 11th-seeded Owls squared off against Illinois, before bowing out 98-89. The loss does not diminish Dusty May’s team or its chance to match last season’s season in March.
Charlie Baker’s plan, on the other hand? This can result in owls being cut off at the knees. And Florida Atlantic is not alone. The school’s rise to the national rankings is just one of a host of potential unintended consequences in the NCAA president’s court of creating a new subdivision in college sports. Baker’s proposal, to create a group of schools that would operate under their own rules but in return would be obligated to pay at least half their athletes $30,000 a year into some sort of trust fund, finally doomed the haves and haves. they do not have.
Welcome to Have It Alls and everyone else.
“There are some things where there is a difference between what I would describe as the top 100 schools in terms of resources and the other 250 schools,” Baker said at the Sports Business Journal’s Intercollegiate Sports Forum. “And what happens is the NCAA ends up in one of these collisions that happen because you have a third of schools that could offer more to student-athletes. They just do it. Once upon a time, seeking competitive fairness was acceptable. That’s not really the case anymore.” ».
Commissioners react to the NCAA’s Charlie Baker proposal on athlete compensation
There’s no question that Baker is in trouble, and whatever you think of the plan, he at least has one. His predecessor Mark Emmert’s hesitant/categorical refusal to acknowledge that name, image and likeness has put the NCAA in this bind, forcing the national body to try to put up guardrails on the highway. This is Baker’s attempt to wrest some control over a situation of nothing that has turned into chaos.
Baker is well aware that the people at the top of the food chain have a lot more power and influence than the people in Indianapolis do these days, and he tries to find an impossible middle ground in which he welcomes the progress needed to keep everything happy without completely sacrificing everyone. And for that matter, everything college athletics has ever stood for.
This may be the only compromise available, the only way to ensure that the Have It Alls team does not take their balls, bats, swords, pucks and cleats elsewhere. It’s miles away from completion, the collective insiders who spoke with them said The athlete But they asked to remain anonymous while they parsed the details themselves, and they thought it was a shot in the arm for Congress as much as it was a shot in the arm for the members. Kind of like, “Hey, we’re ready to do something, so can you help us, please?” Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts, was appointed to the position largely because he understood Washington’s machinations. He’s doing his job, which no one has ever accused Emmert of.
His message, sent from all indications cold and without warning, was meant to be provocative and outside the box because he realizes he needs to get people talking. This is good. But when people begin to consider the proposal, they would be wise to look very seriously at the unintended consequences of such a large-scale measure.
Because it’s so real.
For the sake of argument, let’s take Baker’s proposal on its merits and imagine a world in which some semblance of his proposal passes through the NCAA’s bureaucratic morass and expires. Schools in the Cool Kids Club now have more governing power, and even rule-making power, as long as they agree to establish a trust fund of sorts worth $30,000 a year for half their athletes. (But shh. Let’s not call that “pay-to-play.”)
So let’s think about that. It affects everyone, but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s use FAU as an example. The school proudly announces on its website that “With 19 NCAA Division I athletic teams, FAU strives to develop nearly 500 student-athletes in their respective sports and in the classroom.” Under Baker’s plan, half of those 500 athletes would receive at least $30,000. That means an additional $7.5 million per year, or $30 million over the life of a four-year athlete. It is also exacerbated, because not everyone graduates on time, so you may afford more than average in one year.
According to the school’s most recent report to the NCAA, FAU generated $39.2 million in revenue against $38.1 million in expenses. That doesn’t include the long-term loan commitments used to finance things like the stadium expansion, which are worth up to $48 million over its lifetime, payable in installments between now and 2041.
And now FAU will be on the hook for an additional $7.5 million per year — if only because even Baker acknowledged that $30,000 is fungible. “This is a lenient standard,” he said. “It is a standard designed to set the minimum.”
Where does the extra money come from, and better yet, where does it go? Title IX would require some funding to go to women’s sports, but it would still feel like an episode of Oprah’s Favorite Things; Only in this case, you bypass all other audience members. Now you can get a car. But not you. Fund this sport but not that one, or this athlete but not that one. Left tackle, not right tackle. The goalkeeper, not the striker.
Coaches lamented that the NIL would be the downfall of locker room chemistry and, frankly, it seemed pretty ridiculous. Capitalism allows some people to earn more than others. But it’s a different matter for an external entity – or even a collective – to determine a player’s value; It is quite another for a school and/or coach to recruit an athlete dollar by athlete or sport by sport. (The school may have to get around this, however, for fear of appearing to pay the athletes directly, which would make the athletes employees.)
Let’s face it. And at the level of the powerhouse and Group of Five conferences, which still have a chance to grab the golden ticket to the College Football Playoff, football needs to be fed. Working in a nil minimum wage trust fund simply won’t cut it. If the gymnast makes $30,000, find more zeros for the quarterback.
Hypothetically, this means there will be less money for other sports. Even including basketball.
Programs like FAU, the ones that serve as the lifeblood of the NCAA Tournament, are growing organically. Maye spent five years with the Owls, finding undrafted players (Jonelle Davis and Alijah Martin) and partnering with transfers in need of a reboot (Vladislav Guldin) before turning the Owls into the March Magic. Come to think of it, this is how Jay Wright built a Hall of Fame career.
This does not mean that such a rise cannot and will not happen with a new subdivision; It will be much more difficult. The transfer portal makes roster stability difficult enough, in both basketball and football. Adding the promise of a $120,000 trust fund in one place but not another will make it more difficult.
But perhaps the biggest loss is one that no one ever looks at, in Olympic sports. Until about 2001, the numbers of Division I sports teams grew fairly regularly—about 2 to 4 percent of additional teams were added annually. Since then, the number of teams added has dropped to less than 1 percent and, according to NCAA data, in the past two years has fallen to a negative level (-0.93 in 2021, -0.33 in 2022). Blame it on Covid-19, no doubt. Following the pandemic, 35 Division I schools have canceled more than 110 programs, according to the Business of College Sports. The loss of revenue combined with rising NIL made its existence unsustainable.
This won’t help. The easiest way to create a fund for half the athletes to get $30,000 is to have fewer athletes, and no one making money.
If that sounds apocalyptic, well, the end of the world is here. Remember: Stanford threatened to cut 11 sports, and only changed course after public outcry. Stanford has a lot of money. Most schools don’t.
Then again, this doesn’t relate to most schools. This is the crux of the problem. Baker does his best to find a solution, but he’s trying to save an incredibly broken system. College athletics continues to dance on the head of a pin for a handful of schools that have already gotten almost everything they asked for — including, remember, some sense of NCAA independence. This always comes at everyone’s expense. As one official put it: “If you’re not a member, are you somehow less so? Is your brand taking a hit? Is it diminished?”
The answer, of course, is yes.
(Photo by Florida Atlantic’s Alijah Martin at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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