Brian Murphy: Boise State President Kustra's criticism of NCAA misses the mark

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMay 25, 2014 

Boise State President Bob Kustra, as he is known to do, interjected himself into another fracas last week. This time, Kustra argued furiously against the latest round of NCAA reforms proposed by the five wealthiest conferences in college football.

Kustra, who has never been afraid to speak his mind on this or any subject, believes there is another factor at work beyond the welfare of the student-athlete.

"This is all about trying to separate out the so-called resource five and leave everybody else in the dust," Kustra told the Idaho Statesman.

In an opinion column released to the media, Kustra declared the new reforms proposed by the NCAA would "move it closer to professional sports." He references "days gone by" when wistfully discussing the old (and mostly current) "amateur athletics model."

Here's the problem: Kustra is wrong.

Those bygone days never existed. There have always been haves and have-nots in college athletics. There have always been programs that operated on the "professional model," if that model means to make lots of money by playing college sports.

Kustra was right about one thing. Most student-athletes, who would have very little to no market value, get a heck of a deal by playing college athletics on a scholarship. They get a chance to graduate college without crippling student debts, attention from expert medical personnel and coaches, academic assistance and much more.

He'd like that to be enough.

"I don't know why any university needs to do more than that," Kustra said.

Because they can.

And they must, if they want to keep some semblance of the current business model.

The so-called high-resource five conference - the Atlantic Coast, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the Southeastern conferences - are swimming in cash. The Pac-12 generated more than $334 million in revenue for its members last year. The Big Ten and SEC were above $300 million. Those are just conference revenue numbers. They don't account for the money each school generates individually through ticket sales and donations.

That money gives them the flexibility to provide a more generous package to student-athletes, something Boise State with its relatively paltry $36-million budget can't do as easily.

Those conferences are not proposing better benefits to student-athletes out of the goodness of their hearts. They know they have to do something.

They are tired of being sued and tired of trying to defend a system that pays coaches in the millions but leaves (some) kids complaining that they didn't get enough to eat. And they are tired of having schools with precious little in common telling them what they can and can't do with their money.

That's why the Big Five is pushing for autonomy in setting the rules - and changing them.

Alabama doesn't want Boise State (and schools that don't even sponsor football) telling the Crimson Tide how they can treat their student-athletes simply because the Broncos (or those others schools) can't afford it. That's how the proposed $2,000 stipend for athletes got quashed. Alabama can afford it - and there are only so many times it can give football coach Nick Saban a raise before people start to question why his players can't sell their autograph or accept a free lunch.

Kustra says the big-money schools want to leave everyone else in the financial dust. They already have. "Competitive equality" in the NCAA is a myth. It always has been. The big-money schools get the best players, the best coaches and the best TV slots. They always have. They always will.

Boise State has never been able to compete financially with the big boys, but the Broncos have been able to beat them on the field. Nothing will change there.

The Broncos will do their best to keep up pace. The football program's success is too vital to what Kustra wants to do with the university, too tied to the brand, to stop now.

The hope, no doubt, is for one of those five conferences to rescue Boise State from its middle-class status by inviting the Broncos and allowing them to partake of their largesse.

If it happened, if the Broncos did get the invite (the one they thought they'd secured by agreeing to join the Big East not that long ago), would Kustra feel the same way?

"It's time for the NCAA to take a stand for fiscal responsibility and the rightful place of intercollegiate athletics in American higher education and put a stop to the arms race by rejecting all reforms related to enhancing an already premier and first-class experience for student-athletes," Kustra writes.

That's somewhat rich for Kustra to say, considering the paint is barely dry on the new Bleymaier Football Complex and the sod is about to be laid at the new football practice facility and the naming rights for the football team's home stadium have been sold to Albertsons.

Boise State is as involved in the arms race as anyone.

Now that it looks impossible for the Broncos to ever catch up, Kustra is crying uncle and looking to the NCAA to end this madness.

The NCAA won't. It can't. It has no power. The big-money schools can always take their ball and go home. Then we'll really see what leaving everybody else in the dust looks like.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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