ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — College football was a brutal sport in 1904, with the Chicago Tribune reporting 18 deaths and countless gruesome injuries that year alone.
But Teddy Roosevelt loved the game, and since he resided in the White House, he wielded a little influence. He gathered coaches and administrators from Harvard, Yale and Princeton and they began discussions on how to stem the violence.
From that meeting the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States was born. Five years later, it changed its name to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
A century-plus later, the NCAA still struggles with its identity. What should it change? How should it change?
University of New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs welcomes a “more nimble governance structure” or a “relaxation of certain rules.”
UNM professor Timothy J. Ross, a member of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, wants a major transformation. He believes current proposals are “only nuances” and will not solve the greed of big university athletic programs.
An NCAA steering committee on April 24 is expected to propose to its board of directors a modification as to how the institution functions.
It will suggest granting areas of legislative authority for the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. Such autonomy could lead those five major conferences to increase financial support and benefits to their athletes. They, unlike other schools in other conferences, have the resources.
The plan is seen as an alternative to “play for pay” proposals that could sink schools with less capital.
“Any rules made to provide more autonomy for the larger conference would be permissive and also could benefit UNM and our student athletes,” Krebs wrote in an email. “If there is a concern, it is the limits or boundaries on the autonomy. UNM has supported some form of relaxed rules to benefit student athlete welfare and I believe we will continue to do so.”
Krebs believes this is not an issue pitting the five larger conferences and the smaller ones, but rather of the 10 bowl football conferences and the nonfootball conferences.
“And not all of the schools in the 5 larger conferences are in agreement on the degree of changes,” Krebs writes.
The proposal would establish a 34-member council (32 conference reps and two student-athletes), who would have a final say on most NCAA issues – subject to board review.
The council ballots would be weighted, with the five major conferences getting 37 percent of the vote. The rest of the FBS (including the Mountain West) would get 18.6 percent, while the FCS/nonfootball would get 40.7 percent. Student-athletes would get two votes, or 3.7 percent.
“The degree to which it would affect New Mexico depends on the magnitude of change,” Krebs writes. “I think it is far too early to tell exactly what all changes will occur and their impact.
“However, I think it is fair to suggest the gap will get wider between the top 5 conferences and most of the other schools. And perhaps widen the gap within those top 5 conferences between the top and bottom of these leagues.”
Ross, a civil engineering professor and member of the UNM Faculty Senate, has a far simpler solution.
“You cut these two programs, D1 football and basketball, away from the campuses, and make them profit-based companies,” Ross writes in an email.
“These companies will collect game revenues and TV revenues and endorsement revenues, but they will have to pay for: the athletes (who are not students), the coaches (who will want even more), the facility lease fee, and the licensing fee to the college, to use the name, for example, ‘UNM Lobos Inc.’ ”
It’s an interesting idea, and not far from what already exists for some major colleges.
New Mexico would have a different dynamic. You could probably find a group willing to form a company for Lobo basketball and maybe Aggie basketball.
UNM and NMSU football may have to settle for D-II.
Most significantly, the university could focus its attention on the athletes who are in school for an actual education and not interested in merely staying eligible from one semester to another.
The COIA, a collection of faculty senators from FBS schools, has expressed concern that legislative autonomy for the major five conferences would represent another step down the road of the commercialization of college athletics. Still, it doesn’t seemed poised to carry the banner for Ross’ proposal.
“Of the 62 member schools in the COIA, I would guess there are less than 15 reps who agree to this solution,” Ross writes. “However, a couple years ago it was only 3-4 people who thought this was a good idea. It is a rapidly growing number!”
Ross says university administrators won’t support his idea. But he believes if faculty across the country banded together, a revolution could be sparked.
“The NCAA will get back to the business of supporting the vast collection of non-revenue sports, and organizing championships in baseball, ice hockey, track and field, soccer, etc.,” he writes. “They will be able to regain their sanity.”
Whatever change comes, schools with limited finances will have to be even more creative if they want to be major players.
“We will need to find some additional resources,” Krebs writes. “And as we (have) done in the past, we will have to make choices on what we do to stay competitive and how to invest our limited resources.
“There is no doubt in my mind however, we can remain a nationally competitive athletic program and provide an incredible experience for our student athletes.”
The NCAA, born of football violence, is attempting to reform in order to survive and keep its critics at bay. It may need to borrow that big stick Teddy Roosevelt once suggested we carry.