All NCAA institutions will have an interest in how collegiate athletics’ governing body shifts shapes in the months to come, but each school is likely to have its own ideas regarding how change is implemented.
For Ohio State, one of the largest and most powerful athletic departments in America, there are several areas in which the university will closely monitor potential changes. Its interests are in alignment with many of the other top revenue-earning NCAA member institutions.
According to Dr. John Bruno, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and psychiatry and the faculty athletics representative to the NCAA at Ohio State, the university is keenly interested in possible NCAA changes related to enforcement, amateurism and championship management, among others.
Not-So-New Look NCAA
In many ways, Bruno said, the NCAA of the future will look like the current model. In particular, the NCAA’s ability to manage championships as well as academics suits Ohio State well, Bruno said.
“The fact of the matter is the NCAA does a lot of things right,” Bruno said. “We tend to mistakenly think about the NCAA in terms of March Madness, football and violations, but there’s 36 other sports that they manage very well across multiple divisions. … Even at Ohio State, we don’t want the NCAA out of managing our championships. Managing championships is probably one of the best things that they do.”
Bruno serves on the NCAA’s Academic Cabinet, a governing board that determines rules related to eligibility and progress towards degree, among many others. This board also does a good job, Bruno said, and Ohio State is one of many schools that wants the NCAA to continue managing academic business.
Bruno’s general support of staying under the NCAA umbrella is consistent with director of athletics Gene Smith’s position for months. In July, Smith told BSB that current NCAA member institutions are partly to blame for the current mess and must work to fix it.
“Change has to happen,” said Smith, who also echoed that he has no direct motivation to leave the NCAA structure. “It just has to happen, practically, because if it doesn’t we’re never going to get this thing fixed and we’re always going to have continual mistakes made by the association. The PR part definitely has to get resolved. The thing that is really challenging with all this is, we are the NCAA. It’s not like Mark Emmert is sitting in Indianapolis creating all this stuff. We voted this mess in that we have, and so now we just have a lot of good ideas. We have to find a way to change.”
What does not seem to be in the cards is a full-scale reworking of NCAA divisions. Over the summer, Smith told BSB that something needs to be done to make sure NCAA policies address the fact that the highest-earning Division I schools have different needs than lower-earning schools, and the OSU AD wasn’t against the potential of a new division with different rules for schools in conferences like the Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, SEC and Big 12.
But Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in October at the league’s basketball media day that a potential "Division 4" is unlikely, a decision Bruno is in favor of. However, there is still the feeling at Ohio State that the revenue issue must continue to be discussed.
One of the biggest issues on that front is how to fairly compensate student-athletes, and Bruno is of the persuasion that there is plenty that can be done for players that is “very short of paying them.” Part of the reason this is so is because Ohio State is not interested in a pay-for-play model that provides monetary compensation, he added.
There is, however, more that can be done to help student-athletes defray the cost of attending school, Bruno said, but legislative changes will be necessary for schools like Ohio State that want to do more.
Smith has said that he favors a system that would allow the top revenue producers in college sports to operate under more sensible rules, including the potential to offer cost-of-attendance stipends to athletes, and Bruno agrees.
“A full grant in aid for a football or basketball player, for instance, doesn’t cover the entire cost of attendance, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Bruno said. “If we have the money to do it, than we should pay for all of their miscellaneous expenses that are part of attending school.
“The problem is that there are many schools in Division I that can’t afford that. They can’t afford it. There was an idea to give student-athletes $2,000 to sort of help defray the cost of these miscellaneous expenses and that fell flat. It largely fell flat because of (the institutions) that couldn’t afford to do it. If you’re institution ‘X’ and you can’t afford to do it, the last thing in the world you want is Ohio State doing it because that then becomes, possibly, a recruiting advantage.
“We’re so paranoid about recruiting advantages that we’re failing to do the right thing by meeting the health and safety needs of the student-athlete. If there is a group of Division I institutions — and there is — then they ought to be able to do it for their student-athletes. So what we want is some flexibility in the bylaws of the NCAA that allow schools to provide opportunities based on resources that they have available rather than always trying to legislate to the least common denominator.
“We’re not suggesting this turn out to be the Wild, Wild West without any rules, but there may be a different set of rules for schools (and athletic departments) that are fiscally sound.”
This issue and more are expected to be addressed in January at an NCAA summit in San Diego.
Bruno believes that, when faced with a major-violation investigation following the football program’s 2010 season and 2011 Sugar Bowl victory, Ohio State took a proactive stance to the issues at hand. Ohio State cooperated fully with the NCAA’s investigation into the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal that resulted in former coach Jim Tressel’s ouster and the Buckeyes football program’s 2012 postseason ban, among other penalties, Bruno said.
In that case, Ohio State’s cooperative stance helped expedite the investigation process, but other schools haven’t followed Ohio State’s lead when it comes to cooperating with the NCAA, Bruno said.
Enforcement is inconsistent in a variety of ways, Bruno said, and member institutions will likely want to introduce a new means of enforcing rules.
“There’s a lot of variability in how cases are handled, how fast they’re adjudicated and how transparent they are in terms of the punishment and who the transgressors are,” he said. “The whole enforcement side needs to be more consistent, and it needs to be much faster. There is no reason why these cases should take as long as they do, and what they do is leave these universities in limbo for long periods of time.
“Now, sometimes it’s the university dragging their feet, but you ought to get benefits for being fully cooperative in an investigation. I mean, that’s at the heart of any investigation — cooperation. So, we probably want to establish a new enforcement program.”
More From Bruno
--In July, Delany spoke about reconfiguring the demands placed on college athletes, particularly those in the major sports that face nearly year-round training and drills. Bruno, in many ways, agreed.
“This is a 12-month job, particularly at a place like Ohio State,” he said. “That is probably not healthy. We have all this sensitivity to health and safety these days, and injuries and things like that, and these athletes don’t get a break. And they don’t get a break to take advantage of some things that would be very enlightening for them, like time abroad.
“Student athletes don’t have time to do internships, student teachings — the kinds of things that would allow them to have the same range of majors that other students enjoy.”
--There is also a push to make it easier for high-profile athletes to get regulated, better information from agents before they make their choices when it comes to entering the professional realm.
“If we could loosen up those rules, and it would be very well-regulated, but if you could give (student-athletes) access to these people, it would be in the best interest of the student-athlete,” Bruno said. “A lot of these (college athletes) are told, ‘Come out, come out, come out…,' and somebody’s feeding them a line in terms of their draftability and stuff. We’d like to bring other people in to give them the other side of the coin. We’re not allowed to do that.”