Transformers? NCAA’s Optimus Committee Is Hardly Prime

·2 min read

I read with great interest a while ago that the NCAA had created a Transformation Committee. Made me think of the Transformers toys our son used to enjoy. Remember them? Little robot figurines that, with a few adjustments, morphed into race cars.

If only the NCAA had someone skilled at doing that for the association.

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Well, maybe there’s hope. According to an Oct. 28 NCAA press release, a new “committee, co-chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio University Director of Athletics Julie Cromer, will consider what it means to be a Division I member and how the division should be organized, what is the best process for making decisions, and how to better meet the needs of and set expectations for Division I student-athletes.”

Unfortunately, that committee saddles Sankey and Cromer with an adjective (“transformation”) that sets an extremely high bar on expectations. Think about it: How should university presidents, athletic directors, media moguls and college athletes respond when asked what they think the Transformation Committee will accomplish?

Is it reasonable assuming the NCAA—recently shut out by the Supreme Court (a 9-0 whitewashing) and stomped by various state legislations on name, image and likeness (NIL)—can recast itself into something else? Is it possible to transform the lumbering battleship into a jet fighter?

Perhaps.

As of Monday, the NCAA proudly announced it was proposing a revised constitution (cut to less than half the size of the current version) for scrutiny during a constitutional convention on Nov. 15 and a formal vote by all association members in January. For the transformers, this could mean a de-centralization of power, divisional autonomy and a commitment that the NCAA’s goals will once again prioritize athlete welfare. Oh, and there’s one other thing: that college athletics will once again fit under the umbrella of “academic experience,” rather than the current version where the Indianapolis-based organization focuses on governance and event operations.

For college students considering jobs in intercollegiate athletics, one immediate challenge is grasping how the NCAA attempts this renovation and best provides the illusion of competitive parity for approximately 1,100 schools, when everyone knows the smallest of Division I’s five biggest conferences (“the Power Five”) generates at least $300 million more income than the sixth biggest conference, which is also a member of Division I.

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, it was suggested all the animals were equal, but as soon became evident, some of the barnyard residents were more equal than others. For the NCAA’s Transformation Committee, that sentiment is worth remembering. If transformative change is needed by August 2022, the NCAA will need to give this committee a new constitution and significant latitude to build race cars and open water destroyers.

Rick Burton is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University and SU’s Faculty Athletic Representative to the ACC and NCAA.