A-Sun, Southern Conference await wave of other moves

mlough@macon.comJune 30, 2014 

A_Sun

A-Sun commissioner Ted Gumbart.

WOODY MARSHALL — Woody Marshall

It appears that Ted Gumbart and John Iamarino can take a breath for a little bit.

The commissioners of the A-Sun and Southern Conference begin new eras Tuesday with a changed lineup in their conferences, ending a year of waiting.

But that’s only one transition that has ended. A bigger and less clear one awaits.

Combine Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA with increased rumblings among the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 about exacting more power and autonomy from the NCAA, and any feelings of a settled-down world of college athletes could be false ones.

To be sure, Gumbart and Iamarino are trying to prepare for more than just adding or losing members.

“I think everybody is prepared and bracing themselves for a new landscape,” Iamarino said. “I think the group of five conferences made it quite clear that they have to have the autonomy they believe they need in order to better address some of the issues.”

Those issues include benefits for athletes, long-term postgraduate education, medical insurance and interaction with agents, to name the hot topics.

The Collegiate Commissioners Association is made up of the 32 Division I commissioners, and the group met earlier this month, and there was likely less small talk than usual.

“At the base of it is consensus that change is coming, that it’s needed, and those five conferences need to be separate for certain things,” Gumbart said. “They are different.”

The world -- certainly financially -- that Gumbart and Iamarino work in, as well as most of their commissioner brethren, is quite different from the world of most programs in the big five conferences. And while there are a number of things those five conferences can do on their own separate from the next level of football-playing FBS conferences and the remaining FCS and non-football programs, some items will cause problems.

The Division I financial model remains scattered. The NCAA does not govern the FBS bowl system, and the association’s primary revenue source is the men’s basketball tournament.

“The dollars they’re receiving for their television rights and their networks make them an amazingly profitable enterprise, which causes different challenges,” Gumbart said. “They need to be able to address those. When you get below that group and university athletic departments are fundamentally different ...

“The need to address the rules so that those institutions that have those humongous financial contracts, they need to be different. But how we work that out is still a work in progress.”

The Division I Board of Directors meets in August, and that will be a landmark gathering. The full NCAA membership convention takes place in January, when it will vote on some recommendations while discussing others.

And then there’s the eventual impact on O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA and the trial, which ended last week and left the NCAA looking like an organization that needed some reorganization.

The class-action antitrust suit dealt with the NCAA and its members profiting from use of athletes’ likenesses, from posters to use in video games, while the athletes get no form of financial compensation.

EA Sports was a co-defendant before agreeing to a $40 million settlement that could lead to payment to perhaps 100,000 former and current college athletes. The trial was a public relations body blow to the NCAA. President Mark Emmert said any form of paying players would lead to sports being eliminated and dozens of programs moving to Division III.

Defining “amateurism” as far as the NCAA operates was among the wide-ranging topics. The phrase “full cost of attendance” has been created, as well. That’s the difference between what a scholarship covers -- usually tuition, books, housing and meals -- and the actual cost -- what a non-athlete might spend -- of a year at college. And that ranged from $1,000 to nearly $7,000, according to a 2012 study.

But even those leading the charge for autonomy are somewhat in the dark. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was at the commissioners’ meeting and told USA Today that it’s not just about the power conferences and football and men’s basketball.

“You can isolate them if you want,” Delany said. “That’s an intellectual, maybe legal exercise. But the culture of college sports, for good or for bad, is that it’s for men, it’s for women, it’s broad-based, it’s not two sports. And nobody knows where things will end up.”

Testimony during the trial only enhanced the perception that the academics side is taken less seriously among the power conferences, a charge the NCAA disputes. Massive salaries for coaches is part of that discussion, as well.

And adding to the chaos was the right for Northwestern football players to unionize, a move that then involves union dues and taxing scholarships, among other things. Student-athletes being declared employees is in the mix.

“If you’re only getting a certain percentage of a scholarship -- say it’s 70 percent -- (and) you’re a student-athlete getting that at one of our schools and they say, ‘Oh, the law is changed, you’re all employees now. Oh good, we’ll get insurance.’ ” Gumbart said. “Yeah, you’ll also be taxed. It’s not a win.”

A decision on the lawsuit is expect in mid-August.

So Gumbart, Iamarino, their conferences’ members and those in other collections ranging from the Big South to Sun Belt, can only sit back, get ready for the new sports season and wait for the next wave.

“It’s a strange time in college athletics,” Iamarino said in a great understatement. “Certainly change is coming. That point was hammered home to us (at the CCA meeting).

“It’s either a matter of us making the changes or the changes will be made for us. That, of course, relates to the lawsuits.”

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