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Volume 24 No. 159
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ESPN Assembles All-Star Panel To Discuss The Current State Of College Football

ESPNU yesterday aired the full one-hour special roundtable discussion “College Football Blueprint For Change,” which examined the state of college football. ESPN’s Rece Davis moderated the panel and said, “College football has been rocked by high-profile scandal after high-profile scandal. Many believe the sport has reached a tipping point, a time in which small tweaks to the rules will no longer suffice and a complete overhaul is needed.” The first topic discussed was “pay for play,” the issue of whether athletes should be compensated while in college. Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said a “cost of attendance,” or the gap between what is covered by a scholarship and the actual cost of attending a school, “probably would be an additional $3,000 and would allow the student-athlete to pay for a variety of things and perhaps put some money in his pocket so he can do normal things that students want to do.” Univ. of Tennessee interim AD Joan Cronan said she was “very much for cost of attendance, but I think we have to tweak it a little bit because we’re all looking for a level playing field.” Univ. of Alabama football coach Nick Saban: “It’s fair to the player to be able to (compensate them). A cost of attendance is a simple way to do it.” ESPN's Robert Smith said there are those who “say that the scholarship should be enough” and it is “always somebody else that’s greedy.” Smith: “The next reporter that says that ... start talking about how much you get paid to actually talk about sports and these people are out there earning the university all this money.” ESPN's Jay Bilas: “These kids have value ... in the marketplace and we’re trying to artificially suppress that value.” However, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said people need to “somehow get it through to a 17 or 18-year-old the value of an education.” Meanwhile, Tranghese noted, "We really have no one in charge, by the way. Anybody who thinks the NCAA is in charge has got their head in the sand.”

DANGERS OF RECRUITING: The discussion moved on to college football recruiting, with current ESPN analyst and former Univ. of Florida coach Urban Meyer saying if coaches "willingly, intentionally commit” a secondary violation in recruiting, “you should be suspended.” Saban said, “We should penalize the perpetrators ... (and) eliminate a lot of these secondary things that the NCAA spends a whole lot of time on to be able to spend more time on the major violations that really do create a competitive advantage.” Bilas said, “The rulebook needs to be pared down to what’s important and let’s let go of what’s not. I think the rules suggest that our coaches are bad influences. I don’t agree with that. ... I don’t think they need to be kept away from kids.” He added the NCAA "cannot be rules maker, investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury. We can’t have that. We’ve got to have an independent body that makes those decisions.” ESPN's Mike Bellotti, the former Univ. of Oregon AD and football coach, said the NCAA is an “honor code organization” and it is not an “enforcement organization because they lack certain powers that are necessary." Bellotti: "So we have to revamp the rules to be enforceable, to put teeth into the penalty.”

BCS VS. PLAYOFF: The panel also talked about the debate of the BCS versus a playoff in college football, with ESPN's Rod Gilmore saying the “model we have right now I think can work.” Cronan said, “I’m a big fan of the bowl system. I think there’s tradition, there’s pride and there’s money with what we’ve done right now. ... What I would like to see is the plus-one.” But Tranghese said, “The public needs to understand that if they unravel the BCS, there isn’t going to be a football playoff. It’s going back to the old system.” He did say the “time has come to have that open conversation” about a plus-one system. Tranghese: “I sat in the chair for two years as the Chair of the BCS. It’s probably the two worst years of my life.” Meanwhile, Saban said, “College football is not a bad thing. College athletics is not a bad thing. We may have public relations issues. We may have problems and changes that need to be made, but I’d like for somebody to tell me what one thing out there does more for the development of young people than what college athletics does” (“College Football Blueprint For Change,” ESPNU, 8/21).

HIGH STAKES GAME: In N.Y., Pete Thamel in a front-page piece writes college football has "never been more prosperous," but its "reputation has never been more damaged." The recent Yahoo report concerning the Univ. of Miami "shocked even some of the most hardened critics of the troubled world of college sports." Univ. of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian said, "I don't think the corruption in all honesty has changed a whole lot. I don't think if a kid got paid last year that it's the first time in college football history that a kid got paid. It's the reality of it." Thamel noted the NCAA is "now faced with trying to maintain a semblance of control" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/21). N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said the system of college football and college sports "in general at the highest level ... is hopelessly broken." Lupica: "They have to find a way to start all over again and make this a more contemporary rulebook. ... College football is bigger than it’s ever been in this country. You know what, so was boxing in the 1950s.” ESPN’s Jemele Hill said, “It depends on what the NCAA wants to do. Would they like to completely bring amateurism back? And if they want it to be not the sham that it is, I think the only way you can control it is that bigger heads have to roll. This can’t just be about a system where the ... college athletes suffer the most punishment.” Lupica added, "Until athletic directors (and) college presidents lose their jobs and until we stop punishing the kids for doing what kids do, which is looking for something good to go on top of room-and-board, nothing is going to change. But this sport is killing itself” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 8/21).