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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Cowen-inspired alliance confronts status quo


The top administrators of institutions with limited access to the Bowl Championship Series have had enough. They’re following the lead of Tulane president Scott Cowen and are putting together a united front to take on the entrenched money and power of the BCS system.

East Carolina chancellor William Muse was one of 36 institutional leaders taking part in a teleconference on Tuesday that marked the formation of the Presidential Coalition for Athletic Reform. Cowen said a total of 44 schools are represented. Members of five conferences and independents other than Notre Dame comprise the coalition. Leagues impacted by virtual BCS exclusion are Conference USA, which includes ECU, as well as the WAC, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.

Cowen said the new group also planned to address academic standards and push for the reduction of costs for playing NCAA Division I-A football. The coalition will have the opportunity to meet with representatives of the BCS at a meeting in Chicago on Sept. 8. Cowen said a 17-member commission would represent the new group. It will consist of the commissioner of each non-BCS conference as well as a selected president and athletics director from each league and the independents.

“I thought it was a positive move that presidents of the BCS schools agreed to meet with presidents of the non-BCS schools for discussion,” Muse said. “We need to have some discussions to see if there is some common ground. The main issue is access to postseason play in football and how that is affecting our competitive position as it exists.

“It’s kind of drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘Here are the haves and have nots.’ ”

The financial disparity is glaring with BCS schools getting about $80 million annually from inclusion — about 10 times more than the $8 million that the system hands down to the non-BCS sector. Participants in Tuesday’s teleconference noted that the BCS also affects competitive aspects such as facilities, coaching salaries and recruiting.

“Outstanding athletes want to have a chance to play for national championships,” Muse said. “They figure they can’t do that unless they go to a BCS school. The system has an affect over the long haul — not only in the distribution of money, which is terribly disproportionate, but it exacerbates the division over trying to find young players. It puts non-BCS schools in a position that makes it difficult to recruit.”

Muse also points out that all schools in the top level in other NCAA sports can compete for a national title.

“Gonzaga in basketball figures they can make it to the Final Four but that’s not the case in football,” said the ECU chancellor. “That’s one of the issues a lot of people feel needs to be addressed. It could be done by modifying the BCS.”

Muse was not as outspoken as Cowen and some other presidents in the new coalition. ECU’s highest administrator probably doesn’t want to antagonize BCS interests with the Pirates positioning for consideration for membership in a current BCS conference. The BCS’ current contract runs through the 2005 season.

“We believe that the Bowl Championship Series is anti-competitive and has characteristics of a cartel,” Cowen said. “Tulane met last year with antitrust lawyers. I don’t think it’s productive for higher education and universities to sue each other. But with such an important issue, we can’t rule out any options now.”

Cowen said Tulane will host a national symposium on athletic reform later this year and that Myles Brand, NCAA president, would be among those on hand. Cowen said Brand had agreed to serve as an advocate to eliminate discord within Division I-A football.

In an intriguing challenge of sorts, Cowen has also proposed a debate pitting one president and one commissioner from one of the so-called non-equity conferences against a president and a commissioner from one of the six leagues that control the BCS.

A BCS committee said Monday that it wouldn’t consider a playoff system.

Cowen said it was not “appropriate” to rule out any options before the meeting and argued in favor of a playoff system that would include all of Division I-A.

The BCS bowls — the Fiesta, Rose, Orange and Sugar — take the champions of the Pacific 10, Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, ACC and Big East champions, as well as two at-large teams. The BCS matches the nation’s top two teams in a championship game that has rotated among its four bowls. Independent Notre Dame is the only school other than members in those six leagues to play in a BCS bowl since the system was installed in 1998.

Tulane went undefeated in 1998 but went to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis because the Green Wave was ranked 11th in the BCS standings. A team outside a BCS conference must be in the top six in the BCS standings to get an at-large bid.

“The BCS is heavily weighted to strength of schedule,” Muse said. “If you don’t play in a major conference, that makes it unlikely that you’re going to have a strength of schedule (to get into the BCS) no matter how good a team is.”

Cowen said the new coalition is also concerned about escalating costs and other benchmarks mandated by the NCAA for maintaining Division I-A status in football. The increased requirements in 2004 for Division I-A will require schools to sponsor 16 varsity teams instead of 14, average 15,000 paid attendance per game, and give at least 200 total athletic scholarships or pay $4 million in scholarships.

Muse said a possible compromise could be the addition of another bowl to the BCS that would add the two highest-ranked teams from the group currently without direct access to the BCS. Several bowls have expressed interest in stepping up to BCS status.

“That would give schools outside the framework a feeling that if they were good enough they would have a chance to compete,” Muse said.

Positioning ECU to compete on the highest level in football is Muse's intent. The coalition for athletic reform provides the Pirates leader with another tool to realize that aim.

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02/23/2007 12:40:33 AM

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