SBJ/19980629/This Weeks Issue

Committee may sack college kickoff games

An NCAA committee is set to abolish “exempt” preseason college football games such as the Pigskin Classic and the Eddie Robinson Classic.

On July 7, the Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet meets in Seattle and will vote on whether to accept a subcommittee’s recommendation to do away with the games, which, committee members say, offer advantages to competing teams by allowing them to get a game under their belts before tackling their regular-season schedules. The subcommittee also concluded that such bowls have strayed from their original goal of raising funds for football-related causes.

“There’s a competitive advantage, but there’s also a student athlete welfare issue,” said Mark Jones, the NCAA’s staff liaison to the Football Certification Subcommittee. “You’re playing this extra game for the schools and organizations to make money.”

Promoters of the games disagree and plan to fight the measure.

“As with all the classics, we fund scholarships – ours are for disadvantaged students and for historically black colleges,” said Black Coaches Association Director Rudy Washington, whose organization relies heavily on the BCA Classic for funding its charities. “[Losing] that money will … have quite a serious effect.”

The pool of competitors available to the four classics is limited. The NCAA requires that each team be guaranteed a $600,000 payout, which mandates a paying crowd of at least 50,000 and a lucrative television contract. That rules out all but about 35 colleges, and because the Southeastern Conference doesn’t allow its members to participate, the pool is even smaller.

Also, colleges can be invited to play in the Kickoff and Pigskin games any year but participate in the Eddie Robinson and BCA games only once out of four years. Conferences usually are limited to one representative in the preseason games per year, although in the absence of other candidates, Michigan State was recruited to host the BCA Classic this year, even though Purdue had been invited to the Pigskin Classic.

For schools that don’t often play on national TV, the exempt games provide big-time exposure to poll voters, recruits and fans.

“Louisiana Tech went 9-2 last year and didn’t go to a bowl,” said Dorna USA Vice President David Gardiner, whose company is matching the Techsters against Nebraska in the Eddie Robinson Classic. “This is their bowl game.”

Ironically, the athletic directors on the committee are voting to abolish a source of funds for their own retirement plans, said Bob Vecchione, associate director of the National association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. The Pigskin Classic supports retirement funds for the American Football Coaches Association and Division I-A athletic directors.

Discussion of eliminating exempt games – so called because participating teams are exempt from the usual limit of 11 games per regular season – is a byproduct of discussions about a college football playoff, said College Football Foundation President Bob Casciola. A playoff would preclude preseason contests because contenders would play too many games, he said.

If the Championships/Competition Cabinet approves the measure, it will go to the Division I Management Council and eventually to the Division I board of directors. The games would continue through the 2002 season, when TV deals run their terms.

NCAA exempt preseason football games – 1998 matchups

Date: Aug. 29
Game: Black Coaches Association Classic
Teams: Colorado State vs. Michigan State
Site: East Lansing, Mich.
Network: ESPN2

Date: Aug. 29
Game: Eddie Robinson Football Classic
Teams: Louisiana Tech vs. Nebraska
Site: Lincoln, Neb.
Network: Fox

Date: Aug. 30
Game: Pigskin Classic
Teams: Purdue vs. Southern Cal
Site: Los Angeles
Network: ABC

Date: Aug. 31
Game: Kickoff Classic
Teams: Texas A&M vs. Florida State
Site: East Rutherford, N.J.
Network: ABC
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