The Root Of All Evil??

By Blair Kerkhoff
Updated: April 4, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — Talk of the shifting college sports landscape was interrupted by the Final Four games on Saturday.

But make no mistake, when the hoop festival packs up and departs after Monday’s championship game, the next big events in college sports won’t be contested on the playing surfaces, but in conference rooms.

The docket for meetings over the next two months will include how the NCAA Tournament is structured and how it’s presented, how many new memberships the Big Ten will pass out, how conference expansion could reverberate through the other leagues and whether the latest round of sniping between politicos and the BCS will prompt revenue distribution change.

By the beginning of the next school year, college sports could be headed in different directions, much like the path it started more than a quarter-century ago when a Supreme Court decision that allowed individual schools to negotiate their own football television deals outside the NCAA umbrella opened the door to new conferences and expansion.

Those moves were about maximizing income.

The more things change …

Tournament expansion

Discussion of an NCAA Tournament that would increase the bracket from its current 65 teams to 96 has heated up during the Final Four.

During a news conference intended to reveal more details of a possible 96-team model, noted author and Washington Post columnist John Feinstein asked eight consecutive questions to NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen about the extent of missed class time, and the questioning ended with this exchange.

“I’m clearly missing the nuance of your point,” Shaheen said.

“You and I miss a lot of nuances,” Feinstein said.

Although Shaheen said the NCAA has studied several models, he spent the majority of the news conference explaining a 96-team version that would be played in less time than the current tournament.

The idea has plenty of detractors who assume a why-fix-what-isn’t-broken stance, but one line from Shaheen may provide the best explanation.

“Our effort would … provide long-term stability and predictability to our membership as we go forward,” he said.

Meaning, a new long-term TV deal will be required to keep at least the same amount of money flowing into the national office and back to the schools as the current $6.2 billion contract.

Could it mean the end of the tournament on CBS?

The network has covered the event since 1982, when North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan buried a 17-footer to beat Georgetown and its freshman star Patrick Ewing in the championship game.

The NCAA can opt out of the current deal by this summer, and the assumption is ESPN and a family of channels large enough to televise 31 additional tournament games in an expanded bracket will make a deal the NCAA can’t refuse.

One group that seems squarely behind the move is the coaching fraternity.

“I don’t see any watering down at all,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “I see a great opportunity for a number of student-athletes that can share in this exciting time.”

Big Ten expansion

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith was Iowa State’s athletic boss in the early 1990s when conferences started playing musical chairs.

Penn State joined the Big Ten. The Southeastern Conference added teams and split into divisions. The Big East started football.

“We were in a league where a number of schools had to get stronger,” Smith said. “The Iowa State, the Kansas States of the world were struggling.”

The Big Eight merged with four Texas schools and the Southwest Conference dissolved to the Big 12.

Now, Smith is on the front lines of Big Ten expansion. The conference launched its exploratory process last December and in early March the Big Ten received a report from a Chicago-based investment firm that expansion would add enough revenue to justify expansion.

Currently, Big Ten teams receive about $21 million annually from revenue such as television contracts, bowl games and the NCAA Tournament.

Five schools were studied: Missouri, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, although others could be considered. Smith wouldn’t reveal favorites he’s scribbled down.

“I have my own little napkin,” he said. It includes more than one team.

“I believe if we expand we probably ought to look at more than 12, that’s my personal opinion,” Smith said.

If new members are plucked from other conferences, those leagues will make adjustments.

“Whatever we do, whoever we affect they’ll adjust and survive,” Smith said.

“They’ll reshape themselves.”

BCS distribution

The BCS will meet later this month in Phoenix to discuss many items, including the latest salvos from Sen.

Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, who is questioning the legality of college football’s championship structure.

Hatch wants more information on the BCS inner workings and a better explanation on the revenue distribution. He refers to the BCS six power conferences as “privileged” and the five other conferences as “non-privileged” and continues to call the system unfair.

“I think it’s clear that the BCS is fundamentally unfair and harmful to schools, students, college football fans and consumers throughout the country,” Hatch said in March.

“At the very least, I think the architects of the BCS should provide the public with more information to dispel the notion that the system is explicitly designed to favor certain teams while disfavoring others.”

Hatch cited the $600 million BCS power conferences received from the previous television contract compared to the $80 million received by the non-power conferences.

It’s always about the money.

Get ready for big change in the college sports landscape.