Smith Happy To See NCAA Addressing Issues

The past few weeks have been filled with talk of major NCAA change, and count Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith among those who are happy to see some issues are being met head-on.

Yesterday, NCAA president Mark Emmert said major change is coming to the ruling body of college sports.

Today, Gene Smith said what he's been saying for months – it's time.

"We have to do something different," the Ohio State athletics director told Friday. "It's not working the way it is. The legislation for schools like ours is not working the way we want it to work. I'm hopeful that we can come up with a whole new structure that addresses a lot of the concerns."

Yesterday, Emmert gave the Indianapolis Star a similar take.

"There's one thing that virtually everybody in Division I has in common right now, and that is they don't like the governance model," Emmert said. "Now, there's not agreement on what the new model should be. But there's very little support for continuing things in the governing process the way they are today."

Included in the Star report is word that the NCAA has invited all D-I presidents, athletic directors, commissioners, faculty athletic representatives and senior woman administrators to San Diego in mid-January for a dialogue to discuss the future of the organization's governance. The meeting will be held at the same time as the NCAA's annual convention.

But talk has been ongoing about major changes in governance for months. Smith was among around 80 athletic directors to meet in California earlier this year to discuss what they'd like the NCAA to be, and the AD said the NCAA Board of Directors has hired consultants this summer to poll school administrators about what ideas they would like to discuss in January.

In addition, Emmert has formed an advisory council of athletic directors – including Smith – that will meet with the NCAA prexy to discuss pressing issues facing those in the athletics community going forward. Smith said the first meeting will be in a few days, but he cannot attend, with Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson to represent the league instead.

In the meantime, it's clear that big things are on the way, and it's not a major surprise. The NCAA has taken shots from all angles seemingly in recent months thanks to botched enforcement, arguments over compensation for athletes and the upcoming Ed O'Bannon trial.

"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."

Some of the issues Smith would like to see addressed echo those raised by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany during his address to conference media Wednesday, including a guarantee to all incoming freshmen that they would have the ability to earn their degree even if they leave early – something Ohio State does with its Degree Completion Program – and looking at ways to lessen the time burden on student-athletes.

"You know what our kids put in, even though we have a 20-hour rule," Smith said. "It ends up more than that when you add everything else in around it. We have to find a way to address that. A lot of my issues are around student-athlete welfare-type stuff."

Smith also described football and basketball recruiting as "a nightmare" considering how coaches are evaluating and offering scholarships to younger and younger athletes than ever before.

One of the topics that also will be discussed, surely, will be the financial disparity between the major conferences and those lower in the Division I classification, a gap that has prevented college sports' heavy hitters from pushing through what they view as much-needed changes.

Smith has said before 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.

That is important because not only is it the right thing to do, as Delany said, but because it would perhaps stem the tide of criticism levied toward the NCAA for not compensating the student-athletes whose work has resulted in skyrocketing TV revenues.

A number of league commissioners talked about that issue the past two weeks at conference media day events, and there appears to be a strong movement to push for cost-of-attendance and other such changes or leave those who can't afford them behind.

"I think that is always a possibility," Smith said of the establishment of a new NCAA subdivision for top earners. "There are a couple of ways to do this, like what I talked about before and (Big 12 commissioner) Bob (Bowlsby) and (ACC commissioner) John Swofford and (SEC commissioner) Mike Slive talked about it, is if you just create a different subdivision for the top five conferences and we create our own legislation, we're still in the NCAA umbrella. Nothing else changes – the basketball tournament doesn't change, the money flow doesn't change – we just create our own legislation. That's one way.

"Another way to do it is to just federate by sport. A lot of times we vote legislation in and it's for all sports, so one way to do it – and I think Bowlsby was talking about it, too – is just look at each individual sport individually and create legislation that best fits for those sports, and you can solve some of the problems that way, too.

"There's different models, but yes, if we can't get a new governance structure in, I can say the five (major) conferences or maybe six if you look at the new American Conference, could break out and say, ‘Hey, we're just going to do our own legislation.' I hope that doesn't happen, but that's a possibility."

Emmert told the Star he views that to be a major issue as well.

"There's a need to recognize there are Division I schools with $5 million athletic budgets and $155 million athletic budgets, and trying to find a model that fits all of them is the enormous challenge right now," Emmert said.

Over the next few months, the answer should become much more clear.

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