Wiedmer: Blackburn says change 'wouldn't destroy' UTC

Wiedmer: Blackburn says change 'wouldn't destroy' UTC

July 24th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC athletic director David Blackburn

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

It would be a big mistake to assume that University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn agrees with nothing Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this week concerning NCAA realignment.

Bowlsby may have shaken up the rest of college athletics -- especially those at UTC's Football Championship Subdivision level -- with talk of the five BCS leagues (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) forming a super division over the next year or two for football only.

But Blackburn sees much merit in at least part of that argument.

"I don't think they were altogether out of line," Blackburn said of the potential plan first voiced by Bowlsby, then strongly backed by Atlantic Coast Conference commish John Swafford.

"I actually agree with him on some of the legislative components. When it comes to finances, it is apples and oranges comparing our program and schools in the SEC or Big Ten."

So don't expect him to go ballistic over Bowlsby's assertion that "we've made it too easy to get into Division I, and too easy to stay there."

However, Blackburn does have great concerns about a move afoot in the Big Ten and possibly elsewhere to quit scheduling FCS schools such as UTC, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay altogether.

"I've been caught off guard a little bit by that," he said. "Our fans have always looked forward to those games in the past, and those games have certainly helped FCS programs financially.

"But either way, it wouldn't destroy us. It might change things financially. I think it would be harmful to the overall landscape. But we'd still have football."

You'd need a book the thickness of "War and Peace" (and that title wouldn't be completely off target) to explain how we've come to this moment.

It's equal parts greed and cannibalism, fear and loathing, envy and stupidity.

But however we reached this pessimistic point, we're here, about to find out if ...

(A) The haves and have-nots can and should keep pretending to play by the same set of rules.

(B) The rules can be rewritten somehow to appease the money makers rather than the money moochers.

Or (C) The time has come for the wealthy, beautiful woman to divorce her less prosperous and less desirable mate, all the while understanding that her next partner might be less forgiving of her hidden warts.

Having spent the entirety of his career at Big Brother Tennessee before coming to UTC this past spring, Blackburn says of the proposed Super Division: "It's going to be harder to do than people say."

Yet to consider the alternative put forth by Swafford -- a complete break from the NCAA -- is to realize the nuclear winter that could engulf everyone but the Formidable Five and Notre Dame.

Said the ACC commissioner: "If the five conferences were to break off, I mean, that's a complicated move. You'd have to, in essence, duplicate the NCAA in some form or fashion, and then what does that mean for intercollegiate athletics?"

The academic community might say it would mean a return to sanity. Let the semi-pro leagues have their faux students, scandals and hillbilly boosters who couldn't find the school library with a GPS tracker. Let the rest of us get back to students who are thrilled to receive a scholarship for the purpose of earning a meaningful college degree, using athletics instead of athletics using them.

But could that work in an age of overwhelming money issues at every public university? At what point would an adult have the guts to stand up and say that institution no longer can fund enough scholarships to field 10 to 12 teams?

At what point -- if we're not already there -- do we grudgingly accept the fact that it's ESPN's world and we've become its obedient puppet? Whatever outcome the cable giant wants -- and many would say it wants the Formidable Five and Notre Dame all to itself without outside interference -- is what we'll ultimately abide.

There is another solution that could satisfy all parties, at least in football. Give them their stipends and relaxed rules, but force the big-five leagues to play nine league games each and 11 regular-season games total. The 10th game would come against a rival league or Notre Dame, with the caveat being that game must be played against a team of similar skill. In a Big 12/SEC pairing, Alabama would play Texas whereas Kentucky would face Kansas. Each series would be for two years.

The 11th game would come against an FCS foe, which by then would include the current FCS schools plus all the FBS schools outside the big five. An eight-team playoff would follow for the big boys, with five automatics and three at-large berths. The rest of the sport could continue its own playoffs and bowl games, and the NCAA as we know it could remain on life support for at least a few more years.

As he spoke to his Big 12 brethren about the possibility of vast change, Bowlsby said, "There are going to be winners and losers."

If cooler, wiser heads don't take charge, that might be the only thing about college sports that remains unchanged in the months and years to come.

Email Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.