NCAA giving athletic directors more power
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Mark Emmert, whose tenure as NCAA president has been, well, weird, has decided to ratchet up the fun by instituting a committee of athletic directors to, in a nutshell, ease university presidents away from decision-making about things like recruiting rules.

Right. As though there were rules about recruiting.

But Emmert’s claim Saturday, that “it's clear right now where the association has gone, it's pushed the pendulum too far in one direction, and it really has cut athletic directors out of the national discussion,” is essentially another indication that the art of generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year with less and less oversight from the people who run the universities is the new collegiate war.

The notion that athletic directors have been cut out of the national discussion is largely hilarious, as most of the ADs at larger schools already run their operations with the cheerful agreement of the school presidents. They run toward the money, and those schools who generate cash, either through donations, television, ticket sales or the elusive $79 hoodie are free-range operators.

But for those ADs who claim to feel a president’s pinch . . . well, who exactly is in charge here? The athletic department is still part of the university, or at least uses the university as cover for its own operations, and the notion of an independent athletic department making its own decisions free of institutional strictures – which is where this is all headed, frankly – is a new level of insanity in a world already neck-deep in old insanities.

The NCAA, in short, has always been about athletic directors, for athletic directors and by athletic directors. Codifying a committee to reinforce that is, ultimately, the equivalent of declaring a university to be merely a front for the business.

Not right away, mind you. But just as the wave of conference realignments are designed as a development toward shaking off the smaller athletic operations in favor of an elite 60 to 70 schools, so too is this. While trying to streamline the money flow, the NCAA is now trying to streamline the power flow.

And once those two plans are completed, the question naturally becomes, “So what exactly is the university’s function in all this?” The answer is, “branding.” It is far cheaper to use existing brands, like “Michigan State” or “Texas” or “Stanford” than operating what is essentially a minor league for revenue sports under a new banner.

This is, in short, the kind of reform that isn’t anything at all. The real reforms need to come in scholarship protection and transfer rights and increased compensation for players – in that order. While the NCAA complains about an uneven relationship between its constituents and the school for which they ostensibly work, it fiercely defends its right to hold an even more uneven relationship with its athletes.

In short, Emmert has proposed a new idea that services only his company’s clients, which means it isn’t reform at all, but a power grab. And given the institution’s track record with power, not just in Emmert’s administration but in previous ones, it seems clear that increased power is that last thing it should attain.

And painting its athletic directors as aggrieved parties when most of them depend upon its university presidents for the resources to even have an athletic department is, well, hilarious. What it is not, is reform.

Ultimately, it’s part of a grand plan, either stated or otherwise. Conference shifts and television deals weed out the programs below them, and notions like this lead, eventually, to weeding out the supervisors above them.

Nice work if you can get it.

The kicker in Emmert’s speech Saturday came when, amidst criticism of compliance abuses and top-down management, he identified the one core function at which the NCAA has excelled: running championship events. As in assembling unpaid athletes with no right of movement or scholarship protection to perform for customers who pay vast sums to the middle men – the NCAA.

Well done, then. At least we have clarity about what the NCAA is, and wants -- more. And what it wishes to expend -- less. Committee work can’t be simpler than that.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.