Marshall Column: NCAA's Shameless Money Grab

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the addition of a 12th regular season football game for college football.

The NCAA has struck again.

In a shameless money grab, it will next month approve 12-game schedules for Division I-A teams. In its typical head-in-the-sand approach to the reality of college football, it will apparently refuse to do what is obviously needed and allow the season to open a week earlier than Sept. 2.

When you say NCAA, of course, what you are really talking about is university presidents and their hired hand, president Myles Brand. They love nothing better than schmoozing with the rich and powerful on a football Saturday. They love the money. Those who are active on NCAA committees love flying about the country in their private planes and staying at luxurious resorts for their meetings.

What they forget is the well-being of the young men who play the game.

To make sure everyone knows they are really all for academics, they pass rules that put more stringent requirements on athletes than on other students. They pass rules that penalize a school if a player decides to transfer or to leave early to play for money as if that is somehow the school's fault.

They refuse to even consider something as simple as the plus-one format that would have spared us all controversy of last season. Why? Well, just because they do. And now they want 12 football games, but for some strange reason, won't let the season start one week earlier. It certainly has nothing to do with academics, since school is just getting started in late August.

The result is going to be a wild scramble once the 12th game is approved next month.

There are 13 playing dates in 2006. That leaves just one open date in a 12-game schedule. If the rest of the schedule is unchanged, Auburn will have little choice but to put its 12th game before Georgia, meaning the Tigers will play 12 games without a break, and they won't be alone. Alabama will have to do the same thing. Even if Auburn and Alabama move their game back a week, they would still play 11 games without a break.

That's why coach Tommy Tuberville said it is unlikely Auburn will schedule a major opponent. It would be risky at best to play someone like USC or Oklahoma, even if they had a corresponding open date, a week before the finish against Georgia and Alabama.

In 2003 and 2004, there were 15 playing dates. All coaches want in 2006 and 2007 is 14. Give them that, and everyone would start with an open date the first weekend of the season. That would allow plenty of home-and-home games between BCS conference teams.

That, apparently, makes too much sense for university presidents.

Instead, schools will either have to find opponents with corresponding open dates, or rework their schedules. Making major schedule changes on short notice is not easy for conference teams.

I am reminded of something Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles, still going strong at the age of 80, told me the day before the Tigers and the Razorbacks played basketball in January.

Here is what he said: "I think the college presidents overreact. The average tenure for a college president is four or five years. They are making decisions for that institution, and by the time those decisions are implemented, they are gone. I think it's a bad situation for the NCAA compared to when I was active. They had faculty reps, distinguished faculty reps who reported to the faculty, making decisions about athletics. Most of them had been in their jobs 15-30 years. Their interests were a little bit different than the head of the university coming in wanting to make a name for himself. I just think it's dangerous for college presidents to be in control, because they don't have enough tenure at the schools to really know what the schools' wishes are. They know what their wishes are.

"As a rule, presidents want to look good for the faculty. Take the rule they are putting in that athletes are required to do over and above what other students are required to do. I said, ‘If it's so good, why don't you put it on every dean on campus? Tell him he's going lose students and lose money if his students drop out of school.' It ought to be put on every student.

"Three years ago, the AFCA honored the two coaches that had the best graduation rates. Both of them were fired that year--Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Many of the college presidents want you to be Harvard during the week and Southern Cal on Saturday. That's hard to do."

If you want to know the reality of where the priorities are, check out Tuberville's new contract. Winning a national championship would earn him $700,000 in incentives. Reaching graduation goals would earn him in the neighborhood of $30,000.

But that's another issue for another day.

My opinion is that, if the presidents aren't willing to do something as simple as starting the season one week earlier, they ought to ditch the whole idea of playing 12 games. But reality is that they are going to approve the 12th game and, almost certainly, aren't going to change their minds about opening the season earlier.

Auburn will do what those in charge deem in its best interests. What I am convinced is not in Auburn's best interests is to schedule another game against a Division I-AA team.

No, The Citadel didn't cost Auburn an Orange Bowl bid last season. And Western Kentucky won't cost Auburn a shot at the national championship next season. Florida replaces Kentucky in 2006, making the SEC schedule that much tougher.

Largely because of reasons beyond its control, next season Auburn will have played I-AA teams in four consecutive years. That's more than enough. Avoiding making it five should be a high priority.

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