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PAC-12 Suggests Sweeping Reform, But Don't Disrupt my MACtion

A leaked letter shows the PAC-12's suggestions on NCAA reform.

Duane Burleson

You won't believe this.

A letter was sent from PAC-12 university presidents which recommends changes to the NCAA model in the wake of the Northwestern unionization vote. Shockingly enough, it was leaked to the Associated Press.

The letter was sent only to member institutions in the other four power conferences, because the MAC doesn't matter. That is why it feels so good when you schedule us out of conference: we occasionally come up with a win, and you write us a big, fat check for the pleasure. We see you, Indiana and Virginia.

The major conference product is one that is diluted and antiquated with today's sports fan. Furthermore, these conferences are now besieged by the prospect of sweeping unionization. They're scrambling, and it's fantastic.

The original article can be read here. We've pulled out the suggested changes and examined what it could mean for your favorite conference.

- Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.

I love the sneaky language! "Full cost of attendance." This is, of course, a way for university presidents to circumvent the rules and pay players. First, this will apply only to football and basketball players. Other athletes need not apply. Also, the full cost of attendance is relative. Could you use an iPad in most of your college courses? Of course. Do you require one to pass most of your college courses? No, you do not. So what will happen is this: there will either be a flat dollar amount, more than a football or basketball player needs, or they will be provided with expensive items to be used in class, which will often never be used. These items will then be sold, and there's your next scandal.

The MAC isn't doing this, regardless of the steps major conferences take. Our league does a good job putting the appropriate funds into renovations for athletic facilities, and by-and-large, I'm fine with coaches salaries. I do not want Ball State paying Pete Lembo $3 million per year, nor do I want to throw money at the very arbitrary "full cost of attendance."

- Provide reasonable ongoing medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition or practice. Continue efforts to reduce the incidence of disabling injury.

I've no problem with providing "reasonable" ongoing medical or insurance assistance -- provided that the individual who determines "reasonable" does not have connection to that university or team. Do you think with the sort of money these programs bring in we may be a little quick to jump to the MRI? Maybe. That's exactly what will happen with the PAC-12.  Furthermore, they simply have an eye for the future. They realize that with the buzz being what it is in the NFL, they are closing in on getting sued by former athletes who didn't know running headfirst into other helmet-clad behemoths is bad for you.

Luckily for the MAC, the only school with the kind of pocket change for this provision is Miami, and they don't play hard enough to get hurt anyway. 

- Guarantee scholarships for enough time to complete a bachelor's degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.

"Good academic standing" obviously needs to be consistent with what is considered good academic standing for non-athletes. Additionally, enough time to complete a bachelor's degree needs to be realistic. I was at Ball State for five and a half years. However, I did play lacrosse for a day, so feel free to consider me a student-athlete. Does it have to be four years? I suppose not. Should you be done in five? Probably.

Unlike other schools, the MAC won't let you hang around and get your butt kissed like some other major conference schools. At least, not enough to make DeKalb tolerable. If I was a former athlete at USC, hanging out on the sidelines during games and practice, I'd probably take my time graduating too. In Kalamazoo? Not so much.

- Decrease the demands placed on the athlete in-season, correspondingly increase the time available for studies and campus life, by preventing the abuse of organized "voluntary" practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week and more realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season.

You can say this, but when a coach schedules a "voluntary" workout, unless you are one of the most elite athletes, if you don't come, you won't play. It doesn't matter how few workouts there are. Also, "time available for studies" needs to be "time required for studies." Making a block of time available to hit the books and assuming that athlete will use the time to study is unrealistic. In fact, he'll probably hit the weight room, which is ultimately what these coaches want him to do anyway.

- Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.

There's a very key element in this provision: "specific sports". The PAC-12 presidents want to consider shorter seasons for "specific sports". I'm going to give you my thoughts on what I think those "specific sports" are, and you can do it with me. Go to any PAC-12 school's website and click on "athletics". When you have a list of all the sports in front of you, here's what those "specific sports" are: anything not named football or basketball.

Are you serious, PAC-12? What kind of fools do you take us for? There is no way the PAC-12 will ever shorten the football or basketball season. I really hope they do, though. Consider starting the football season in October. Take the burden off of these "student-athletes". From August until the start of the major conference season, the MAC would be the only game in town.

- Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for postseason play.

This language will always be present in any sort of bylaws that are written. Here's the reality of the situation. The schools that will be for it will be schools with historically high APRs. The schools that will be against it will be schools with historically low APRs. University presidents will be vigilant only to the point that it does not prevent their institutions from participating in postseason play.

That being said, how these numbers are calculated must be revisited. Our esteemed Matt Daley, shed some light on the topic, and there are a number of SEC schools that have APRs higher than MAC schools. I'm flabbergasted. I don't have an eloquent argument, but have you met these people? Is spitting tobacco part of how that number is calculated? I just don't get it.

- Address the "one and done" phenomenon in men's basketball. If the NBA and its Players Association are unable to agree to raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men's basketball.

This won't happen. Ever. If it did, the MAC would hit the jackpot. First of all, I love one-and-done.  It is 100% un-American to withhold the opportunity for high school ball players to make money in the NBA if there is a team willing to take a shot on him. "But what if they don't make it? They're unprepared for life!" I don't care. They should've gone to college. It's only failures that will make the college option more attractive. As long as these bogus rules exist, then I've no problem with ball players (not "student athletes") going through the motions of school until they're finally allowed to join the workforce.

If the power conferences are foolish enough to institute a freshman ineligibility rule, here's what the MAC does: nothing.  And guess what the MAC becomes? The most talented basketball conference in America. There is not a top prospect in America who would say, "Sure I can play right away at Western Michigan, but you know what? I think I'll sit a year at Duke before I'm really ready." That person doesn't exist. The MAC would become the place where NBA talent goes before the NBA. What about Ball State's APR, though?

I'll get over it.

- Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and NCAA levels.

This is pandering at the highest level. The university presidents will only allow a role in governance to the point where it prevents a union vote. "Meaningful" is irrelevant. The athletes will not play a "meaningful" role. What university presidents will do, however, is set a bare minimum, meet that bare minimum, then they can say they're doing something.

The MAC is in the best possible position here. They can watch this develop, realize that the athletes are satiated like a child, actually receive no voice, and avoid the embarrassment of throwing a fit and ultimately receiving nothing.

Or, in the unlikely event some real good does come from this, they can do it more efficiently than their major conference counterparts. There's no reason to be trendsetters here.

- Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage of their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.

Probably an impossibility as currently structured, PAC-12. The second that athletes are provided with "the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals," professional sports agents and competent professionals will swarm your campus. Let me fix this for you: "professional sports agents and competent professionals in the student athlete's chosen field of study." I'm fully aware that this means Scott Boras will claim to have a degree in communications. I didn't say it would be easy.

Ultimately, it will be the athlete's responsibility to seek and heed the advice of professionals. Seeing as how so many athletes think they will play professionally (and the vast majority of them are wrong), this is unlikely. There needs to be a guy who goes to practices and tells these guys, "You're not going to the NFL." If they're good enough to go, hearing that won't matter anyway.

- Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.

What? The PAC-12 came up with a good idea. It's no secret that coaches can jump ship at any moment, even before the bowl game! (We see you, Dave Clawson.) I've always hated that, and kudos to Ball State for making the buyout of Coach Lembo's contract significantly higher if it occurs before a bowl game. Kids are going to a school for the coach, not the university. I see no reason why kids can't leave if a coach does, too.

Nice try PAC-12. Revise, identify your mole, and get back to me.