‘Costas Tonight’ dives into the dysfunction of college athletics

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As we mentioned in a primer a couple of days ago, “Costas Tonight: Live from 30 Rock” held a town hall/round table style special on the pressing issues of college athletics.

To reiterate the words of Bob Costas, not every angle was covered and not every voice was heard, but a few issues were brought up. Here were the highlights:

Pay for play
By now, you probably know the story. The NCAA originally passed legislation last fall to allow schools and conferences to add up to an additional $2,000 to the value of an athletic scholarship to their athletes. That proposal was met with enough opposition by Division 1 members to suspend it until what is now being reported to be an August revisit.

The issue itself is worthy of an extended deadline. Do schools allow college athletes to be paid their free market value, as ex-agent Josh Luchs suggested in a Sports Illustrated column?* Should there be a compromise and recognition that participating in college athletics is a full-time job that has a zero dollar cap? Or, is the value of an education, books, food, housing, etc enough?

(*that’s never going to happen; I’m just laying out ideas)

Joe Nocera of the New York Times related college athletics to “unpaid labor” and outlined a plan to where programs allowed a multi-million salary cap for teams where a minimum salary of $25,000 was given and select players could get more.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus said “athletes deserve more than what they’re getting. What they get is not equal to what they’re giving up.”

CFT’s take: Let’s be honest about paying players. What does it mean and are we okay with the consequences? The truth of the matter is that universities provide ample resources for their athletes, from the educational, to the financial for, say, an emergency trip home. The life of a college athlete isn’t exactly that of the starving student it’s sometimes made out to be.

With that said, playing sports is a full-time job for these athletes. Not a part-time job, a full-time job. And it’s one that offers limited, although not nonexistent, opportunities for compensation elsewhere during the academic year. The question we need to ask is what’s the dollar amount associated with the time that is being put toward the sport vs. what the athletes need. Minimum wage? Skilled labor? That’s what athletes should be compensated.

It’s about finding a middle ground.

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The BCS vs. playoff debate
BCS executive director Bill Hancock said during tonight’s broadcast, as he has said time and time again, that major college football’s regular season is the playoff.

It isn’t, and Hancock knows it. Costas promptly called Hancock on his bogus spin, pointing to teams like Boise State and TCU, which had undefeated seasons in years past and yet no shot at a BCS title. Hancock was speechless. As in, he had no response.

How can I describe it? In the movie “The Royal Tenembaums”, Ben Stiller‘s character accused Gene Hackman of stealing savings bonds out of an account. All Hackman’s character could do was chuckle helplessly and awkwardly in response.

It was like that.

But BCS leaders, to their credit, have listened to enough backlash to understand something needed to be done. So they met. And met again. And will continue to meet until July. And today, we found out that postseason ideas have basically been grouped into four categories, one of which reeks so profoundly of BCS slime that I’m not convinced Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany wasn’t just screwing with our heads out of boredom.

CFT’s take: There’s not much that hasn’t already been said. Anything — well, except for the now-infamous Rose Bowl idea — would be almost an immediate improvement over the current system, no matter how small or displaced. To me, there are four individuals who are running away with the oversight in college football. You can probably guess who they are, but just in case, here’s a hint: they run the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. If/when they decide outsourcing their postseason to third parties is tiring, they’ll adapt. And so will the rest of college football.

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Conference realignment
This has been downright frustrating. Driving the scenarios where San Diego State plays in the Big East, Missouri is in the same division as Florida and two conferences fold into one to form a 24-team hodgepodge has been the pursuit of the ever-lucrative TV dollar.

After two years of shifting, moving and near-superconferences, South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard was asked tonight if the realignment craze had gone too far.

The answer, of course, is an emphatic yes, but you can click the video below to see a longer answer. If nothing else, it’s interesting to get the perspective of an AD whose own conference was nearly annihilated by realignment… and then nearly annihilated another conference in the process.

CFT’s take: Realignment is a bittersweet game for us. On one hand, we’re never opposed to the benefit it brings our site, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make the 2011 season a lot less enjoyable on the field. The worst part is the feeling of helplessness that comes with it. Tradition? Whatever, big deal. Contractual agreements? Nothing more than the paper used to light celebratory cigars following the addition of a new school to a new conference. How can you or I — the common folk — argue with the almighty dollar, no matter how weak it is compared to the Euro?

The short answer is we can’t.

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Other items from the docket tonight that didn’t necessarily involve football:

— ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, new South Carolina coach Frank Martin and former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie shared their thoughts about the one-and-done rule in college basketball. Bilas, as you might imagine, had zero issue with it, Martin wanted it taken out entirely and Flutie did his best to support staying in school. Martin suggested going back to the rule where freshman must sit out a year before playing varsity sports.

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— Former Mizzou receiver Sean Coffey was part of a panel discussing academics. Coffey said he felt sports operate essentially as a full-time job for athletes, and agreed with Costas’ assertion that academic advisers work to help athletes stay eligible, not enhance the educational experience. I think it’s fair, though, to point out that college will always be what the athlete — or you, your son or daughter  — makes of it.

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— NCAA president Mark Emmert sat down with Costas for a one-on-one interview. In between a handful of “I agrees” and “you’re rights”, Emmert acknowledged it was time to cut down on “trivial” violations and increase severity of sanctions for major infractions. That’s been the goal for the past year, but nothing definitive has been done yet because, well, it’s not as simple as ripping out the pages of the NCAA’s rulebook.

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Suspended Mich. St. staffer receives one-MONTH contract extension

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A disturbing situation in East Lansing has added a head-scratching twist.

According to ESPN.com, and by way of a Freedom of Information request, Michigan State football staffer Curtis Blackwell was on the receiving end of a one-month contract extension earlier this month.  Blackwell, whose title with the football program is director of college advancement and performance, was set to see his contract expire at the end of this week.

What makes this development noteworthy is that Blackwell has been indefinitely suspended by the Spartans since early February.

Around that time, it was confirmed by the university that three still-unnamed MSU football players had been suspended after allegations of sexual assault were made against them last month.  An unnamed football staffer was suspended at the time as well; that staffer was subsequently identified as Blackwell.

A police investigation, as well as a Title IX probe, into the allegations continue.  Blackwell is not accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault, but rather a non-sexual crime that’s connected to the investigation.

Mark Dantonio hadn’t spoken publicly about the allegations until earlier this week, and the head coach probably would’ve been better served to have kept it that way.

A&M, UCLA both add New Mexico to future schedules

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Texas A&M and UCLA announced Wednesday that their 2017 opener had been moved from Saturday to Sunday.  As it turns out, that wasn’t the only scheduling news connecting the two football programs.

As part of a release announcing seven games being added to its future schedules, New Mexico confirmed that two of those contests will include A&M and UCLA.  Both of those games, obviously, will be on the road, with the Lobos traveling to College Station Sept. 18, 2021, and to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Sept. 13, 2025.

In its release, the school wrote that “[t]he game in College Station has a guarantee of $1,100,000 and 450 complementary tickets,” while “[t]he game in Pasadena has a guarantee of $1,200,000 plus 2,000 complementary tickets that UNM can sell for extra revenue.”

The last and only time New Mexico and UCLA squared off was in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, a 27-13 win for the Bruins.  UNM and A&M actually completed a home-and-home series relatively recently, with the Aggies winning both games played in the 2008 (28-22) and 2009 (41-6) seasons.

In addition to the future Power Five games, a continuation of the long-running rivalry with UTEP will be extended.  UNM will play in El Paso in 2021, then host UTEP in 2022.  Those two games will mark the 79th and 80th contests in the regional rivalry.

Michigan State, Washington round out future schedules with Utah State

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Needing to fill a single spot in some future schedules, both Michigan State and Washington have come calling to the Mountain West for an opponent. Utah State was happy to oblige.

Michigan State will host Utah State on September 1, 2018. The Aggies will travel to Washington on September 19, 2020. For their travels, Utah State will collect $2.9 million between the two games, according to FBScheduels.com ($1.4 million from Michigan State, $1.5 million from Washington).

The Big Ten and Pac-12 each use nine-game conference schedules, leaving three spots open for non-conference games. The Big Ten requires all conference members schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent (the Pac-12 has no such requirement of its members at this time), although exceptions are made. Utah State, as a member of the Mountain West Conference, would not satisfy that requirement for the Big Ten, but the Spartans already have a road game against Arizona State (Pac-12) on the schedule in 2018. Michigan State and Arizona State will play again in 2019 in East Lansing. Michigan State also has future power conference matchups with Notre Dame (2017, 2026, 2027) and Miami (2020, 2021). Michigan State will also play BYU in 2020 in Provo.

Washington has future power conference matchups with Rutgers (2017), Auburn (2018, in Atlanta), and Michigan (2020, 2021). The Huskies will also face Mountain West Competition from Fresno State (2017), Hawaii (2019), and Nevada (2027).

Utah State will face power conference opponents on the road in 2017 (Wisconsin, Wake Forest), 2018 (Michigan State), 2019 (Wake Forest, LSU), 2020 (Washington), and 2021 (Washington State). Utah State will also host Washington State in 2020 as part of a home-and-home deal. Utah State also has an annual series against BYU running through 2020.

Old Dominion hopes to “hit the ground running” on new stadium project

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Some fans of the Old Dominion football program may be getting a little impatient with the progress (or lack of) in the development of the football stadium, but Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig says things are coming along nicely and progress will start to be seen soon enough.

“Once we get the architects engaged, we’ll figure out what $55 million will buy in 2019 dollars,” Selig said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “Then we’ll have an idea for how much additional money needs to be raised to support the project.”

Old Dominion is planning on tearing down Foreman Field at the end of the 2018 season and rebuild it with modern seating and amenities. The $55 million project remained on the books in the Virginia budget in February, allowing the university to move ahead with their plans. The first step is finding an architect to take on the job.

Because Old Dominion’s football stadium is among the smallest in the nation and will remain so even after the rebuild and renovations, the entire project is expected to move fairly swiftly once the work actually begins. Old Dominion isn’t building a grand football palace, so any concerns over the lack of updates on the stadium should be calmed.

If nothing else, the concerns raised about the lack of updates on the stadium renovations may just mean Old Dominion has some eager fans excited about the future of the program.