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Volume 24 No. 178
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All Or Nothing: AAC's Mike Aresco Shoots Down Idea Of Group Of Five Playoff

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco had a blunt response when asked whether he would be interested in a football playoff for schools outside the Power Five conferences -- “We don’t want to be considered second-class citizens.” Aresco made the proclamation during the opening panel on Day Two of the ’17 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. Aresco told moderator Dan Wolken of USA Today that such a move would basically mean that his members were resigning themselves to never being able to compete for a national championship. That, he said, would feel a little too much like being at the “kids’ table.” Learfield President & CEO Greg Brown said that one of the flaws of the current system is that the playoff selections ultimately depend so much “on where you start” in the rankings at the beginning of the season. He suggested the CFP start a preseason rankings system and that the selection committee late in the year has to unwind the preconception of where perennial top programs ought to be. Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod agreed with Brown that the preseason AP and Coaches’ polls “put a vision in people’s head” with regards to which schools deserve to be considered for the playoffs.

COACH SPEAK: The conversation shifted to the coaching carousel in college football, namely the amount of money being paid in some recent contracts. Maryland AD Kevin Anderson said, “Everything’s instant gratification now.” He acknowledged the increased emphasis on early success when taking over a program, but, looking at the amount head football coaches are being paid, asked simply, “When is enough enough?” Aresco said, “In the end, it’s the marketplace. We have an arms race that really can’t be controlled. … God bless Jimbo Fisher -- if you can get $75M, that’s what you’ll do.” Aresco did say college football has started to look too much like the pros, and suggested the industry could look to The Masters as a prime example of a sports entity that could generate more revenue, but instead shows fiscal restraint. Learfield’s Brown emphatically pointed a finger at the leaders of universities across the country. He said ADs feel they have to offer bloated contracts to football coaches because “they’re not getting the cover they need from the Presidents.” Brown said university boards and presidents have “gotten weak-kneed” when it comes to fan upheaval. He hinted they leave the AD to cut a lucrative deal with a coach for a significant number of years, only for most school presidents to leave “within 4 or 5 years.” Brown: “The change of the dynamic in the last 10 years … It’s ridiculous, it’s out of control. ADs don’t have the backing they need.” Knight Commission co-Chair Carol Cartwright said in her time as president at Bowling Green, it was understood coaches would leave for more money elsewhere. Cartwright: “We had to say, ‘Blessings on you, go have your success.’”

HOOP DREAMS? Wolken touched on the effort to reform college basketball with the FBI’s investigation into corruption across the sport. ESPN’s Jay Williams expressed doubt as to the ability to clean up the sport, referencing the murky waters of shoe company influence over prospective student athletes. Williams: “If you don’t have the knowledge of how that underworld works, how are you going to put restrictions on how that operates? … The amount of money being funneled underground is ridiculous. It’s way more than the outside world knows about.” Anderson was more optimistic of possible reform, saying Dr. Condoleezza Rice is “the right person to lead this.” He also called the FBI investigation “just the tip of the iceberg.” Aresco also expressed confidence in Rice, though he wondered if her committee’s recommendations will truly be acted upon.  Cartwright added that the NCAA “doesn’t have a great history” of taking bold recommendations and acting on them.

Quick Hits:
* Brown stayed relatively mum on the pending Learfield-IMG College merger. “We’ve done the filing with the federal government. Regulators are looking at it. ... We’re cautiously optimistic.”
* Brown defended John Currie amid the Tennessee situation, saying it “seemed like people held their finger in the wind” over fan reactions. Anderson: “John Currie is one the best ADs in this country. ... It’s a sad commentary for our profession.”
* Williams said when he talks to current D-I hoops players, some refer to themselves as “athlete-students” because of the amount of time they are asked to spend on the court.
* On the issue of whether to pay student-athletes, Aresco said they are already “getting an awful lot that the average student doesn’t.”