Happy 2023, SporticoU readers. The NCAA kicked off the new year with a bang as it released the Transformation Committee’s final report—more than a year in the making. The committee, which was created—in typical NCAA fashion, because, well, the NCAA loves committees and subcommittees, and more committees—to outline a modernized future of Division I college athletics. Dozens of wide-ranging recommendations were proposed and submitted to the DI Board of Directors, including taking a “big tent” approach that keeps Division I as we know it intact, but perhaps the most notable from a financial perspective is the reconsideration of how the NCAA distributes its roughly $1 billion in annual revenue.
Let’s backtrack for a second. The NCAA currently distributes revenue to schools from a series of buckets. The biggest pot of funds (a whopping $171 million next year) is distributed based on one factor: each DI conference’s success during March Madness, calculated based on how many of its teams make it to the Big Dance and how far they go (each game appearance earns a conference one “unit,” in NCAA speak). Before we continue, I should clarify—that distribution is based on each conference’s success during the men’s March Madness tournament, and nothing else.
In Tuesday’s report, the committee recommended the distribution be tied to success in other sports, including women’s championships. Golf claps feel appropriate here.
The recommendations for reform go far beyond money matters, focusing on three key areas for progress within the DI ranks: more support for the mental, physical and academic well-being of athletes; bettering the championships experience; and making DI athletics fairer and more equitable. Most of these things are still just recommendations, which need to go through more deliberation and legislative processes before they’ll be voted on at different points throughout the year. But some recommendations have already been adopted, including a series of benefits that schools were previously unable to provide athletes. (For example, schools can now purchase insurance for their athletes to account for injuries and illness, financial support can now apply to expenses like parking and transportation to campus, and so on).
But sometimes more telling than these reports are the things the people involved say about them. In that spirit, here are the three most interesting points SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio athletic director Julie Cromer, co-chairs of the committee, made during Tuesday afternoon’s press conference:
- When it comes to actually adopting the committee’s comprehensive recommendations, Sankey said the NCAA’s “board of directors and the supporting elements of the governance structure have the opportunity to bat 1.000 here.” Translation: implement them all!
- Even within the DI ranks, you have schools with vastly different budgets and resources competing in the same field. Many of the recommendations proposed would expect members both big and small to provide new benefits for athletes that some might not be able to afford—which could put them at a competitive disadvantage. Comer didn’t think the recommendations make it “cost prohibitive to be a Division I member. I think instead, what it requires institutions to do is to align their investment in the day-to-day support of student athletes so that they can provide a student athlete experience that is truly comprehensive, holistic and meaningful in terms of a Division I experience. That may require some institutions to stretch … but we thought it important enough for those who wish to share in the rewards of full Division I membership to align their resources accordingly to support their student athletes.”
- When asked about the recommendations to “modernize” the revenue distribution model (mentioned above) and include the women’s basketball tournament in those calculations, Sankey said: “[The report] does not lay a specific template over but well raises issues that should be considered as part of the continuing conversation around NCAA revenue distribution.”
Which reforms are implemented this year will say a lot about how the NCAA approaches modernizing its business amid the onslaught of outside pressure on the current model. As I said in the last edition, I don’t envy Gov. Baker or the job he’s about to take over from Mark Emmert.
As we all wait in anticipation to see what the future holds, there’s still one important question I need to ask you: TCU or Georgia? I hope you all enjoyed the rare treat that was two (!!) actually thrilling semifinal clashes on New Year’s Eve, which paid off for ESPN to the tune of 21.7 million average viewers, good for a whopping 28% jump over the 2021 season. But more than that, I hope the teams carry that energy into next week’s championship. Give me a one-point, last-second win and I’m in, even without a dog in this fight (no pun intended).
Until next time, go Frogs & Dawgs.