Columns & Blogs

Boise State President Kustra blasts NCAA autonomy vote

Boise State President Bob Kustra
Boise State President Bob Kustra doswald@idahostatesman.com

Boise State President Bob Kustra, an outspoken critic of NCAA reform measures proposed by the Power 5 conferences, blasted Thursday's vote by the NCAA board of directors giving the Power 5 conferences more control.

The NCAA Board of Directors voted 16-2 on Thursday to approve a historic package of changes that allows the five richest football conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — to unilaterally change some of the rules that have applied to all Division I schools for years. The 65 universities in those leagues will also benefit from a new, weighted voting system on legislation covering the 350 schools in Division I.

Boise State is a member of the Mountain West, one of five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences outside of the Power 5.

"For those who already think that Division I athletics has devolved into a business that too often dictates university priorities rather than the other way around, it's about to get worse. These elite programs will bear less and less resemblance to amateur athletics and the mission and role of a university. No one should think it will stop here," Kustra said in a statement.

"This entire issue of increased autonomy for the resource five conferences should not be viewed as an intramural fight within Division I. No president within Division I should be in favor of these changes. They take Division I athletics down the wrong road to professionalism and brands the entire division as beyond the control and oversight of universities and the boards who govern them."

A handful of university presidents who spoke at NCAA headquarters after the vote agreed on one thing: Paying athletes to play is off the table. And it's very unlikely that the five leagues will design their own policies when it comes to infractions.

But there's a good chance the five leagues will take steps to add money to scholarships or craft an athlete stipend intended to help cover the so-called full cost of attending college — costs beyond tuition, room and board and books and supplies. That will be millions more in spending by leagues that are already partners in multimillion-dollar TV contracts to show off their top sports of football and basketball, raising fresh concerns about an arms race in college athletics by some, including Kustra.

It is not the first time Kustra has voiced criticism of the proposed changes.

The Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA, American and Mid-American Conference are the FBS conferences outside the Power 5.

"The Mountain West appreciates the efforts of the Division I Steering Committee and chair Nathan Hatch in developing a governance structure that meets the needs of Division I as a whole. Adoption of the new governance model will allow Mountain West institutions to determine how best to meet the needs of their student-athletes while continuing to provide opportunities to compete at the highest level of collegiate athletics. Student-athlete welfare and academic excellence have always been paramount in the Mountain West and will continue to be at the forefront of the discussion as we enter this new era of Division I," Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said.

"The Mountain West already has begun to involve student-athletes in its governance structure with the participation of two student-athletes at its spring 2014 Board of Directors meeting. This type of engagement will further enhance the overall experience of the student-athlete. The Mountain West membership has been actively engaged in conversations about the governance redesign for some time and we look forward to continuing the dialogue throughout the implementation phase of the new structure."

Said Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson: "Today's vote by the NCAA Board of Directors is historic, but our universities have understood for some time that there will more than likely be an increase in the cost of operating their athletic programs. There will be challenges, but Sun Belt universities have invested too much not to be part of major college sports in the future."

Already this year, the NCAA has agreed to settle two lawsuits for a combined $90 million and still awaits a judge's decision on a federal lawsuit in which plaintiffs led by Ed O'Bannon have argued college sports' amateurism rules are anti-competitive and allow the organization to operate as an illegal cartel. Also pending is a decision by the National Labor Relations Board on whether Northwestern football players can form what would be the first union for college athletes in U.S. history.

While NCAA leaders acknowledge the new system may not quash every legal case or argument, those who helped draft this proposal believe it will give prominent schools greater leeway in addressing the amateurism model and other concerns.

"I think we sometimes have to go back to why do people file lawsuits?" said Kansas State President Kirk Schulz, who worked on the plan. "It's because they can't get the action they want. It (autonomy) is going to help with some things, not all."

The power conferences contend they need more flexibility to solve the day's hottest controversies, including recruiting and health insurance, and complained long and loud over the past two years that change was critically important.

  Comments