The choice of NCAA membership classification has always been based, more or less, on institutional choice. Is it time to consider something different?
The question becomes more important as the question of full cost of attendance begins to fill the window for Division I members.
Of course, the cost-of-attendance discussion is at the earliest stages, and it’s far from certain that the Division I membership will take the plunge.
A number of high-powered Division I administrators have been talking the concept up, saying it may be time to think more about benefiting student-athletes at major programs and less about keeping the playing field level. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive made that point in a conversation with CBSSports.com’s Tony Barhart that was posted Monday.
“For the longest time,” Slive said, “our focus on intercollegiate athletics has been to try and maintain a ‘level playing field’ for all the institutions involved. But now I believe we need to discuss whether or not those of us with the resources should be able to provide the needed help to athletes when the cost of attendance exceeds the actual value of the scholarship. Academic scholarships have for a long time provided this kind of support based on the need and based on the location of the campus. At this point we don’t know if it’s workable but you can’t make that decision if you don’t sit down and talk about it. So it’s time for us to a least talk about it.”
The decision ultimately belongs with the membership, so we’ll all track together as the issue unfolds over the next year.
If this does shake out as “permissive legislation,” the conventional wisdom is that it would widen the gap between the largest programs and the others. There’s nothing deplorable or admirable about that. It’s just the way things are.
I do worry, however, about how far schools on the margin will act in their efforts to be perceived as elite. Is there a point at which new criteria should be introduced into the mix to protect them from themselves? Or should everybody be comfortable with a more Darwinian approach?
I would be interested in whether elements like undergraduate enrollment and permanent endowments (there would have to be multiple standards) could factor into elite-level classification. Maybe enrollment and endowment aren’t the correct gauges − I am but a humble blogger, after all − but surely there are some non-athletic markers that could help define the institutions that are suited to sponsor mega-programs.
Is it likely to happen? Probably not. The biggest programs likely can get what they want without such a drastic move, and intermediate programs likely wouldn’t want their access to the “top” cut off.
Should something like this be discussed? I wish somebody would take the concept on a spin. The perceived benefits of large-scale athletics success exceed reality in too many places. Maybe it’s time to look at a new way.