Boise State president Bob Kustra isn't hiding his feelings about proposed changes to the NCAA's structure.
Earlier in the week, the Pac-12's presidents officially recommended the NCAA go ahead with changes that were endorsed by the Division I Board of Directors in April for the power five conferences. However, Kustra does not agree with many of the proposals.
Boise State is a member of the Mountain West Conference. It's not a "power five" conference.
"The latest round of NCAA reforms proposes a new governance structure that President Harris Pastides of the University of South Carolina described in a New York Times op-ed piece as allowing universities “to independently determine at what level they can provide resources to benefit students,'" Kustra wrote in a letter sent out Wednesday night (via the Idaho Statesman). "Now there’s a sure-fire way to kick off a race for larger athletics budgets. At the very least, they are to be commended for their honesty.
"Of course, this grab for money and power is couched in the noblest of terms - it’s all about the student-athletes and paying them beyond the scholarship because they generate revenue for the programs."
Kustra is correct in his thinking that the proposed reforms could allow schools from the power five conferences to offer benefits that other schools like Boise State cannot. Schools with more athletic revenue will be able to give bigger stipends.
But the arms race is already happening under current NCAA regulations. It's just happening in the form of athletic facilities and schools with higher tuitions are using the numbers to show the "value" of an education that athletes are receiving via scholarship.
He also raised a valid point about the discussion that's sure to ensue when it comes to compensation of athletes. What is the line going to be when figuring out what a football player should make vs. a soccer player?
"Forget the fact that only two of Division 1 sports — men’s football and men’s basketball — produce the millions of dollars that fuel the NCAA sports empire and member universities, although too many athletic departments operate in the red anyway," Kustra continued. "All other student-athletes, while valuable members of the university community, play little if any role in revenue generation for the university. They are called non-revenue sports for a reason."
While the fair market (and university financials) would undoubtedly say that the football and men's basketball players are worth more to the university than a player from a non-revenue sport, any unfairness in compensation would be a direct contradiction of the NCAA's focus on all the student athletes who don't go pro in their respective sports.
At the beginning of his letter, Kustra mentioned the control the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC are exerting over the rest of Division I. And while his displeasure with the way the powerful programs have been controlling the direction of the NCAA comes legitimately given Boise State's place in the Mountain West, it's necessary to point out that Boise State scrambled to become a member of one of college football's (at the time) power conferences in attempting to move to the Big East in 2013, even if it made no logistical sense.
The ill-fated Big East move was a blatant attempt to get a BCS bid. When the BCS bid fell apart for the conference, so did Boise's desire to expand its football travel budget immensely in the hope of more cash and the school got a better TV deal and stayed in the Mountain West. Had things gone differently with conference realignment, would Kustra be saying these things?
He did voice his support for three proposed reforms though.
"Three aspects of the NCAA reforms do make sense and should take precedence over all other issues. First, improved medical monitoring and changes in some rules on the field can avoid the serious aftereffects of concussion injuries," he wrote. "Second, student-athletes deserve the opportunity to come back after their playing days and finish their education at the university’s expense. Finally, there must be rules about how to protect a student from loss of an athletic scholarship because of a career-ending injury.
"In the end, it’s about getting our priorities straight and focusing on the real student-athlete issues, not those fabricated by the elite few with ulterior motives."
The MWC is Boise's current reality for the foreseeable future. Right now, college athletics are mimicking life; money corresponds with power. If lower and middle-budget schools find they want a voice to counter the power conferences, it needs to be a united one. We'll see if Kustra becomes a leader of a movement to counter the power five schools, even after his school just completed a 15-year $12.5 million naming rights deal for its football stadium. It seems everyone wants money; it's just that some have more than others.
- - - - - - -