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Knights Roundtable: NCAA Constitutional Convention Edition

What should the NCAA do at its constitutional convention next week?

(Anaheim, CA) (3/25/03) Brent Mater, operations manager for the Arrowhead Pond applies an NCAA logo Photo by Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

On this special Knights Roundtable, we are tackling NCAA reform. The NCAA’s special constitutional convention is set to begin today, and its results could have major reverberations throughout college sports, not to mention with regard to UCF.

It’s no secret the NCAA needs major reform, so we decided to voice our opinions on what we’d like to see happen.

What’s the one major change that you need to see from the NCAA out of this convention?

Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): With the NCAA’s power now being devolved to its divisions, we need to see much more stringent and clear criteria for regulation of programs. The NCAA’s enforcement of sanctions against misbehaving programs has been a travesty (See: Baylor, North Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, Michigan State re: Larry Nassar, etc.). Major programs know that there’s no real incentive to follow the rules because the NCAA has been lax in penalizing them. There’s no disincentive when coaches don’t get fired, banned and/or fined. In addition, the penalties that do get laid down end up hurting kids that had nothing to do with whatever happened, through scholarship limits and postseason bans. Finally, as we’ve seen particularly with Baylor, those who deserve protection end up not being protected at all.

So a new enforcement regime that goes directly after the perpetrators of cheating with fines and penalties that will actually discourage that cheating would be nice to see. I’m not getting my hopes up though.

Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): The NCAA needs to develop some consistency. There is the old story of the NCAA getting mad at Alabama, so they punished Cleveland State. Stories like this, coupled with blatant failures like Jeff mentioned, showed that the NCAA lacks the organizational strength and integrity to handle the job correctly. Far too often, we see kids today and tomorrow get punished for the sins of coaches and administrators in the past. When a school does wrong, hit them where it hurts: their history. Take away wins, punish coach legacies, fine them. Banning a bowl game today for something that happened four years ago only hurts the students. They don’t deserve that. At least by hitting the past, the students still got to have the experience. Now, in the case of a real systemic issue, take a harder line. Baylor got barely a slap on the wrist in comparison to what they should have received for completely failing in their humanity in the chase for wins. North Carolina’s blatant academic fraud should have yielded something, anything. It got nothing.

We can’t have that going forward.

Bryson Turner (@itsBrysonTurner): Ensure that student-athletes themselves get representation in all major decision-making matters. If this decade in sports has taught us anything, it’s that the “shut up and dribble” mentality is not going to fly anymore. Thus, making sure student-athletes have adequate representation in the upper echelons of NCAA leadership can help make policy decisions that take the student-athlete perspective in mind, which had been sorely missing for so long.

If you could completely re-structure the NCAA*, how would you do it?

*Destroying it is not an acceptable answer.

Jeff: RELEGATION! The structure of the NCAA should allow individual sports programs that invest in themselves to more easily compete at the highest level, and thus incentivize good programs to grow while penalizing those that are just along for the ride. For example, I think North Dakota State football should move up to FBS, and UMass should move down, but NDSU and UMass’ other sports shouldn’t have to suffer from that move because of football. But on-field performance should only be part of that equation. Donor investment, fan attendance and engagement, and academic performance should also be key factors.

This is where an English Premiere League-like system of promotion and relegation within each sport that utilizes some formula that takes in all of those factors and creates turnover within the NCAA’s three (or four!) divisions can be a real boost to college athletics as a whole.

Andrew: I love the promotion/relegation model. Talking about it has made for some interesting online discussions. With this idea, we should remove the need for a school to be completely one division or another. There are a few schools that have one or two sports in an upper division with the rest being in a lower division, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about each sport being classified on its own. You have a brand new sport, start in Division II, and work your way up, even if you have an FBS football program and vice versa with other Division I sports. This is a merit-type system that should be done on a multi-year rotational basis. It would have to rip apart conferences and potentially ruin traditional rivalries, but modern realignment has already done that and that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Cue the Lord Farquaad gif.

Bryson: If I were the dictator of the NCAA, and I could structure it any way that I want too, I would do it with a separate promotion-relegation system, a separate one for each sport.

Picture this, with football as an example: Say, at the end of the season, the CFP committee (or some other kind of ranking metric) ranks all 130+ schools in the FBS, and the bottom 30 are sent down to FCS and the Top 30 FCS teams are promoted to the FBS.

Then, and this is the cool part: there can be a draft where all the conferences at each level get a certain number of draft picks depending on how many teams they lost.

So, say Kansas, Arizona, and UNLV drops to the FCS level and North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, and Youngstown State all get promoted to the FBS (This works between all the other NCAA divisions as well). That means the Big 12, Mountain West, and Pac-12 all get draft slots in the Conference Realignment Draft that they can use to select any of the Top 30 FCS teams that got promoted. This hypothetical draft would then have a lot of thought going into it, such as do you prioritize geographical footprint or do you forgo that if the school has a better TV market or a better athletics budget to work with?

With this model, the best schools get to play at the highest level if they have sustained success and there’s more of an incentive to strive for sustained success. Plus, the idea that, say, Vanderbilt can be traded the Big 12 for a draft pick so the SEC could draft an upcoming FCS school that it sees potential in just sounds like a really cool way for college athletics to work.

Will it work in real life? Heck no. It sounds cool though, right?

Will it affect UCF at all, and if so, how?

Jeff: It already has. I think the Big 12 move happened so quickly at least in part because of this. We’re going to see some big structural shifts in football over the next few years as the expanded playoff gets sorted out and the divisions between the G5 and P5 become calcified. I think that’s also why Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State moved up as quickly as they did. It was now or maybe never, and we struck while the iron was hot.

Andrew: Well, with UCF moving to one of the autonomous conferences and the FBS possibly being moved into its own governance structure, there was no better time than now to move. This impacts the FCS schools that want to move up more. If these changes are implemented, the door to moving up might close or become very hard to open. After many many years of being a have-not, UCF is joining the haves. In the event that the power five conferences choose to break away, UCF will be able to come along for the ride.

Bryson: I don’t think we’ll know this for sure until the Division I governance structure is agreed upon. According to the draft, each Division will have independent authority to organize itself as it best sees fit. Thus, with this new structure, we won’t really know any effects it can have on UCF until we find out how Division I will organize itself. That said, with what we do know, I think the new student-athlete representation in major decision-making can pave the way for a UCF student athlete to be selected for such a seat one day.

In retrospect, what affect did this upcoming reform have on UCF’s Big 12 move?

Jeff Sharon: As I mentioned above, although it wasn’t the factor, I think it was the factor that sped it up. We’re seeing a big game of musical chairs play out among major college athletic programs, and UCF had to grab that chair before the music stopped.

Andrew: It really didn’t change what UCF was doing. The goal was always to move up in stature and that’s what was done. The autonomy status the NCAA gave the five biggest conferences helped cement their regal status in the conference hierarchy and UCF has been trying to climb that mountain since they moved to FBS in the mid-90s.

Bryson: UCF’s move to the Big 12 means that it will not get left behind if the Power Five conferences elect to do something that could separate them even more from the Group of Five. This program had already made so much progress and put so much effort to get recognized as a nationally recognizable program and brand. I wouldn’t want all that work invalidated if the Power Five decide to split up from the Group of Five from a governance standpoint, increasing the separation between the two groups even further.

In short, it’s like UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati managed to get on the last lifeboat remaining on the Titanic. Now, even though they may not know what the Power Five conferences have in store, they can take comfort in knowing that if they separate from the Group of Five, they are not getting left behind.

Real talk: What do you think the result will be?

Jeff: Not enough, as usual. We’ll see some new language with regard to how the different divisions regulate themselves with regard to scholarship limits and all that, but in the end, the NCAA, as always, is not able to move quickly enough to adapt to the needs of its members. Whether that results in most of Division I eventually splitting from the NCAA when they get tired of it, I don’t know. But this feels like the NCAA’s last-ditch effort to keep itself together. If it doesn’t work, it’s the beginning of the end.

Andrew: Meh. I’ll believe real change when I see it. The NCAA has shown time and time again to be all bark and no bite, even on things that are actually important. Sports are great and we love it, but protecting women against rape and sexual assault and protecting academic integrity should matter more. The NCAA has shown that in their eyes, it doesn’t. If they can’t get it right, shut it down and start over. We all deserve better.

Bryson: I think it’s too early to tell at this point. We still have to have this new constitution finalized and signed. Who knows what kind of changes could happen to it in that time? However, the NCAA has, at least, finally listened to its critics and making sure hot-button issues brought up in college athletics are addressed in the constitution, such as Diversity and Inclusion, and Name-Image-Likeness Rights. Rest assured, though, this is not done yet. Thus, I imagine we could revisit this topic at least one more time, even if it’s just when the ink dries.