Unfunded mandates are always controversial. When one government requires another government to spend money it may not have, there is bound to be tension. Proposal 2011–96, which allows schools to provide up to $2,000 beyond the current grant-in-aid limits, is not an unfunded mandate. The key word is allows. The proposal requires schools to do nothing, just permits them to.
But many schools are struggling to see a choice. 2011–96 (and 2011–97, the multi-year grant proposal) allow, in the views of many administrators and coaches in Division I, something so powerful that it must be provided. The fear with competitive equity is not that winning is easier for some schools than others because of money. The fear is that winning will become impossible for some schools based on money. Increased money to student-athletes is expected to be one of the things with that sort of competitive impact. That fear has been turned into enough override requests to suspend 2011–96 at least until the Board of Directors takes another look at the proposal.
The simplest way to address the issues with an unfunded mandate is often to fund it. However, that is often impossible since funding the program (i.e. raising taxes) is often as unpopular as the program might be necessary. But in this case, the Board of Directors could kill not just two but six birds with one stone. Because the mechanism for funding a large grant-in-aid increase is the creation of an FBS football playoff.
Not just any playoff. This would be an NCAA Division I FBS Football Tournament. That means a selection committee. It probably means an RPI of some kind. It could mean a large bracket, although it does not have to. But most importantly, it means the revenue from such a tournament would be distributed by the NCAA.
Only about 40% of the revenue the NCAA distributes to Division I schools is distributed based on competitive success (i.e. winning games in the men’s basketball tournament). The rest is distributed equally (sometimes with strings attached) or based on the number of scholarships a school offers or how many student-athletes receive Pell Grants. Not to mention that the Division I revenue distribution takes up only 60% of the NCAA’s total operating revenue, with the rest spent on the NCAA’s championships, membership services, distributions to Divisions II and III and administrative expenses.
If an FBS tournament generated similar revenue to the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, there would be to match or even exceed existing Bowl Championship Series payouts while leaving plenty left over to fund the additional scholarship costs. In fact, it would be able to fund the most expensive version of that proposal, where the expense allowance is equal to the full cost-of-attendance and student-athletes on partial scholarships receive an equivalent portion of the stipend.
A funded scholarship increase could potentially solve the following problems:
- Criticism that the increased aid is not to the full cost-of-attendance. The allowance could more easily be increased to that number without imposing additional costs on cash-strapped universities. Plus mandated reporting through the NCAA’s revenue distribution system allays concerns that the cost-of-attendance calculation might be manipulated.
- Title IX concerns. If the proposal is broadened to include partial scholarship athletes, then the proportion of aid available to men and women does not change, and football’s 85 full scholarship no longer create a significant Title IX hurdle.
- Creation of a football playoff. No need for explanation here.
- Competitive equity impact. In the short term, there is no competitive equity impact, since the scholarship increase is funded for everyone.
- A new model of competitive equity. In the long term, the existence of an NCAA tournament in football and greater targeted funding of specific costs makes the Board of Directors’ new approach to competitive equity more palatable. In all sports schools would compete against their conference peers to get into a national tournament where they get their shot against the rest of the country.
It also makes a football playoff significantly more likely. Instead of the weighted voting of the Legislative Council, FBS schools would receive one vote each. FBS specific legislation requires 25 requests to start the override process, 50 to suspend legislation, and 75 votes against a proposal if it ultimately comes to that. At that point, the only way an FBS football playoff would not occur would be if a significant majority of schools did not want one.
If this sounds too good to be true, it is admittedly a little oversimplified. It would be hard to tie the existing financial aid proposal to an FBS-only playoff proposal, so you would have two separate proposals. Everything would go back to another override process where the success of one proposal hinges on the success of the other and with only a subset of schools voting on one of the proposals. But the idea solves too many problems to not get at least a “what if” when the Board of Directors meets in January to continue the path to reform.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.