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Will Jim Delany's Endorsement of "Full Cost of Attendance" Cause A BCS/Division I Divide?

(Note: This blog posting has been cross-posted at Technorati, and an edited version can also be found in its entirety there. This post adds some more background information to what's posted there.)

Say this about Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany - he knows how to get an audience.

Yesterday, Delany put himself front and center once again after picking up a topic that two NCAA commissioners, the late Myles Brand and Mark Emmert, had floated but never pushed - the idea that scholarships to play collegiate sports should include the "full cost of attendance".

Currently, the "full cost of attendance" of an athletic scholarship includes tuition, dorms, classroom materials and other expenses.

But Delany's endorsement of the proposal to include transportation and a stipend for personal expenses as scholarship money turned a whole lot of heads for a lot of different reasons.(more)

In his initial statements on the position, Delany talked about being challenged by Emmert about moving the bar about improving the welfare of student-athletes.

"Do we move more toward student-athlete welfare and not be so prescriptive about everyone being able to afford everything?" Delany told the Sporting News.

(Whether Delany has come to this position because one of the members of his football conference is facing penalties from the NCAA in covering up a tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal, it's impossible to say.)

But his advocacy of increasing the amount of money paid out to student-athletes - as many as an extra $5,000 per year for upwards of 100 student-athletes in many cases - caused not a few athletic directors to nervously clench their wallets.

Many Division I schools already compete in a crazy marketplace. Schools pursue coaching talent that occasionally reaches millions of dollars per year. While definitely at the highest end, Alabama's Nick Saban gets more than $5 million a year, 57 of 120 FBS-level coaches make $1 million or more.

Schools also are in a market for facilities improvements that cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars - and not just at BCS schools. James Madison, who competes in the Colonial Athletic Association in Football Championship Subdivision, is currently undergoing a $62 million renovation - with rumors that the total cost will be significantly higher than that.

Higher scholarship costs would be another huge expense that - as some critics claim - would make the gap between BCS and the rest of Division I a chasm that would be near impossible to bridge.

Could that be Mr. Delany's endgame in this proposal? It's certainly a possibility.

Its effects have led some writers, notably Tony Barnhart of CBSSports.com to think that such a change might create a split of BCS and the rest of Division I into three subdivisions:

So here is today's exercise. Imagine if you will that the big boy conferences of the BCS grow tired of getting beat up about their postseason. They get tired of getting direct threats by the attorney general of Utah and indirect threats from the Justice Department. With five of the six BCS conferences (the Big East is the exception) in possession of television deals that are over 10 years in length, they are pretty secure financially. So consider this possible chain of events:

• The Big East, as our Brett McMurphy reported this week, knows it has to expand to 12 to prove it is serious about the football business. It does that and finally gets a serious television deal.

• Some time in 2012 or early 2013 the six BCS conferences announce the end of the BCS as we know it when the current contract expires after the 2014 bowl season. The 70 schools in those six conferences will be joined by independents Army, Navy, Notre Dame, and BYU to form the College Football Association (Sound familiar? It should. The original CFA was formed in 1984 and broke up when conferences began negotiating their own TV deals). The CFA will crown its own national champion, either through the bowls and polls or through a playoff. The CFA will also expand the value of its scholarships to include the full cost of attendance.

• The remaining conferences in Division I-A (Mountain West, WAC, Mid-American, Conference USA, and Sun Belt), will be joined by the best conferences in Division I-AA to form a new Division I. This division will crown a national champion with a playoff. The Big Sky, CAA, Missouri Valley and Southern conferences would be among those I-AA leagues likely to help form a new Division I-A.

• The Division I-AA conferences that did not want to move up to Division I-A would remain and still play for a championship. The doors would also open for Division II programs that wanted to move up.

Could this eventually happen? I don't think so for three reasons.

First, schools that currently compete in FBS in football do so for two reasons: either their sports departments are self-sustaining financially, or they're trying real hard to get to that point.

All creating a new "I-A" conference would do is create a new purgatory for these schools: a new hurdle to overcome, a new transition process to go through. After fighting so hard to get a seat at the BCS table, "I-A" schools would see all that disappear. It's fair to say those schools won't go quietly.

The likely reaction of the conferences that currently have BCS access, but wouldn't have access to the money from the CFA, who would take all the sources of college football revenue with them. "Championship Access" would be prominently featured in the lawsuits of the have-not conferences as they sue to get a piece of the financial pie.

Second, nobody wants to rupture the NCAA Tournament in men's basketball. A "Delany Rapture" would give two classes of athletes: those that get "full cost of attendance" scholarships, and everyone else in Division I, from Siena to San Diego State. Do these CFA schools play their own basketball tournament, separate from the one the NCAA sponsors? I don't think the CFA schools want to do that, when push comes to shove.

Finally, suppose you're the commissioner of an FCS conference. You've been thinking about "moving up" to FBS to increase the profile of your football team. But in this new reality with the CFA, I-A and I-AA, what's your incentive for moving subdivisions? NCAA Tournament access? Playing some money-losing bowl games with the WAC and MAC?

There simply isn't enough reward for schools and conferences to move.

Furthermore, certainly such a split wouldn't be good for the overall welfare of all student-athletes. Some would benefit greatly., but others would see none of that money.

*****

Instead of a split, let me propose my own suggestion that would genuinely benefit all student-athletes in Division I.

Taking a percentage of the revenues generated by the BCS and their bowl system and putting it in an NCAA-administered fund for the purpose of subsidizing the "full cost of attendance" adjustment for all Division I athletes would provide a lasting legacy for all of its participants.

To give all Division I athletes a $1,000 yearly stipend - assuming on average 100 covered athletes for all 330 Division I institutions, whether they play football or not - a fund would be required to pay out $33 million annually.

Sound like a lot of money? Well, starting next year, the BCS will be receiving $125 million from ESPN.

It wouldn't even tough the BCS' existing payouts, either. Last year, the BCS received $82.5 million from Fox. Not only would the $33 million be covered by the new deal, the BCS would be able to increase the payouts to its member schools as well.

If Jim Delany, Mark Emmert and the BCS power structure are truly committed about student-athlete welfare, they should certainly be in favor of such a fund.

Of course, it only has a chance of being seriously considered if they really mean what they say about improving the welfare of student-athletes.

No other proposal could possibly benefit student-athletes more than the one I'm proposing - and it wouldn't even cost the BCS any extra money, just a large percentage of the new money from the 50% increase in TV money from your latest contract. And in four years, the TV contract will likely increase again.

The ball is in your court, members of the BCS. Do you really care about student-athlete welfare, or those just words in your public relations game to separate the BCS from the rest of collegiate athletics?

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