published Monday, October 31st, 2011

SoCon studies NCAA changes

Southland commissioner Tom Burnett called the NCAA Division I Board of Directors' approval last week of a proposal that would allow for schools to provide up to $2,000 to full-scholarship student-athletes a possible "game-changer" in collegiate sports.

The approved measure will allow conferences to vote on whether they will provide the money to some or all of their sports, in order to better cover the full cost of attendance.

Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino, like Burnett, oversees a mid-major conference that plays in the Football Championship Subdivision and has numerous schools, like the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who are already having to work hard to make ends meet financially.

Iamarino said the SoCon will have to take into consideration what other conferences are doing, while also making smart financial decisions.

"One of the factors that we'll certainly look at is what we hear and see from comparable conferences," he said. "Whether they go ahead and do it may influence our decision, but we have to be fiscally responsible.

"I think that was the one message I heard [during last Wednesday's SoCon meeting of athletic directors] was we've got to make decisions based on what's good for athletics within the conference. But we've also got to be fiscally responsible for the missions of each institution."

UTC men's basketball coach John Shulman isn't in favor of giving money to student-athletes on top of the scholarships they already receive. But if other conferences do it, the SoCon must also, he said.

"We've got to stay with the Joneses," he said. "We can't get behind."

It's not so much the actual money, Shulman said, it's about recruiting. If the SoCon doesn't participate, he said, UTC would have a hard time recruiting against schools from other conferences that are able to dangle that $2,000 carrot.

"If all the big boys are giving it to them," he said, referring to schools in Bowl Championship Series conferences, "we better be giving it to them, because they can always use that against us in recruiting."

One problem with the possible $2,000, in Shulman's opinion, is that it might not be used the way the NCAA thinks it should, on day-to-day expenses not covered by a full scholarship.

"It's silly, $2,000 will last these kids probably two months because all of a sudden they've got free money. It's not going to last them what [the NCAA] thinks it's going to last them," Shulman said.

Or, as Iamarino put it, "I talked to somebody [last Wednesday] and they said 'I'm going to buy stock in XBox.'"

All of the recent NCAA reforms, combined with so much conference realignment, has Iamarino feeling a bit uneasy about the world of collegiate athletics.

"It feels like the structure is kind of levitating a little bit off its moorings," he said. "I think it concerns all of us. I know that I saw a lot of looks of concern on the faces of the athletic directors in our league as we talked about some of this.

"We'll adapt and we'll be fine, and our institutions will as well, but change is always a scary thing."

Sports like football and men's basketball in each conference will likely have to go along with the $2,000 in spending money in order to remain competitive nationally. And the funds will have to be distributed equally to women's sports in order to maintain Title IX compliance.

"We've got schools that are already so strapped financially," Burnett said, "that I just can't imagine them being able to do some of this, that certainly a BCS conference can do."

The same is true of the SoCon and many other conferences, who now face some potentially game-changing decisions.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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