Wiedmer: Don't count on Knight Commission

Wiedmer: Don't count on Knight Commission

May 13th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

Is there any more toothless, useless organization involved with intercollegiate athletics than the Knight Commission?

The supposed conscience of big-time college sports held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the escalating financial crisis. Its conclusion, according to commission co-chairman Gerald Turner, was as follows: "The recession is accelerating the need to make hard choices about college athletics, but the fundamental problems will not abate when the economy improves."

In a related development, your 401(k) is down five touchdowns late in the fourth quarter and Chrysler just applied for a sixth cycle of eligibility for its K-car.

Then again, Turner - once the Ole Miss president, now the head of Southern Methodist University - does seem to have a firm grasp of the obvious.

But fixing all that ails college sports at all levels will take creative legislation that reins in costs without raining on the parade of television dollars generated by major college football and men's basketball.

So what to do?

First, forget whining about coaches' salaries unless you want to go socialist and pay everybody the same. By the way, such a cap would then need to include salaries paid to college presidents and lower administrators, which should quickly table that discussion.

Much as no coach should probably make the $4 million annual salary that Alabama is paying football boss Nick Saban or the $3.7 million that Kentucky is paying basketball coach John Calipari, those men will generate far more money than they make. Saban already has.

But cutting the number of coaches and players within a program should be implemented. Limit Football Bowl Subdivision programs (formerly I-A) to 70 scholarship players (down from the current 85) and coaching staffs to eight full-timers with two graduate assistants.

Tennessee had at least 15 coaches - including restricted earning spots - last season and went 5-7.

By limiting full-timers to eight, you dramatically cut costs, and with two grad assistants you keep worthwhile new blood flowing into the profession. And if Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) schools can get by with 63 scholarships while potentially playing 15 games, the big boys could surely survive a maximum of 14 games with 70 players.

And, please, no arguments about how limiting scholarships will water down the product. It's only going to further improve the product by more rapidly spreading the wealth around.

Just as the current 85 scholarship limit has slowly aided the Vanderbilts, Northwesterns and Stanfords of college football, further limits would accelerate the process. Limit everybody to 70 players and we might not need the increasingly rare possibility of hot places freezing over for the Commodores to win the SEC. At least we might not once Tim Tebow graduates from Florida.

Basketball should similarly trim, cutting scholarships to 12 for guys and girls, though the women can carry a maximum of 14 scholarship players by splitting up the scholarships due to a higher likelihood of injuries. Also, cut coaching staffs to four total with one of those a GA.

And to some extent, the Knight Commission is considering at least a couple of those proposals, beginning with slashing football scholarships.

But what it shouldn't do is weaken the product by threatening to end its tax-exempt status if it doesn't dramatically reduce expenditures. Yes, the money seems ridiculous. But larger stadiums and flashier productions have also generated extra revenue, which is sorely needed to fund nonrevenue sports.

Much as college presidents hate to admit it, oversized football programs often make it possible to limit the financial pain of properly funding women's athletics, nonrevenue men's sports and intramurals.

Beyond that, force a major college football playoff while retaining the bowl system. All indications are that such a tournament would have a tremendous financial impact on all of intercollegiate athletics.

Like any good self-serving commission, the Knight group will meet again in September. Perhaps by then, someone will decide that the best way to save money would be to disband this bunch.