TELANDER: Power conferences not far from mutating NCAA
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist January 18, 2014 1:18AM
The story of Richard Ben Cramer (above) and Alex Rodriguez is one you shouldn’t pass up reading.
Updated: February 20, 2014 6:34AM
I predict that in 10 years, you will barely recognize NCAA football.
There will be the smaller, less-wealthy schools playing what you still could call ‘‘college football.’’ But there will be the behemoths — Alabama, USC, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma and pals — playing something far closer to true professional football.
Call it the ‘‘Young Pro League,’’ since the age of the players will be the main thing that differentiates the big conference teams from NFL teams. That is, the athletes will be somewhere between 18 and 23, just like most college kids.
They’ll even reside on campus. However, the charade of academia will be lessened by having deferred scholarships, even majors such as ‘‘Elite Football’’ or ‘‘Pro Football as a Career’’ for those who are all-in.
Players, if they ever wake up, will share in the massive stadium and TV revenues created by their work to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. The silly façade of amateurism will vanish, and rabid fans of Michigan, Nebraska, LSU, Auburn, Oregon, etc. still will have their royal tailgates and fervid Saturday afternoons highlighted by 12-game seasons, with some teams playing as many as 18 games en route to the vaunted 64-team Young Bowl Tournament championship.
The need for change in elite college football is manifest.
The rumblings are everywhere — from disgruntled huge programs such as Texas, where the athletic department has its own TV network and doesn’t like supporting dinky programs like, say, New Mexico State, to Congressmen who don’t think their constituent schools get a fair shake at success.
The five ‘‘power conferences’’ — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference — don’t want to hang with lowlifes like the Mountain West or Conference USA. And they sure don’t want those deprived conferences getting a cut of their income pie.
All-out rebellion — with the big schools saying, ‘‘Adios NCAA!’’ — is a possibility. But D-I colleges basically are happy with the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, and blowing up the association would be pretty radical.
‘‘It’s a little bit like the formation of our [U.S.] Constitution,’’ Division I president Nathan Hatch told ESPN.com at the just-finished NCAA Convention in San Diego. ‘‘Big states vs. small states.’’
Let’s say New York and Virginia (Michigan State and Stanford) don’t want their taxes helping New Hampshire and Delaware (Boise State and Brigham Young). Help. Where are you, George Washington and Alex Hamilton?
So to keep the ‘‘union’’ together, I believe the big dudes will get their special treatment and the little guys will stay involved, however meekly, accepting scraps that fall from the banquet table.
Then it’s simply a matter of the players figuring out what’s going on, getting a voice, getting their cut.
Really, that’s the only flaw in my prediction. Sadly, as you know, sheep can be shorn forever.
◆ It’s common practice to say Sports Illustrated has lost its way, that in recent times the weekly magazine has relevance only when somebody like Kate Upton is featured on the cover in less cloth than a caddy’s towel.
Not true. Nothing against you, Kate (still dating Justin Verlander, btw?), but the Internet has made many old forms of journalistic transmission appear outdated, now that anybody can blabber about anything and hit ‘‘send,’’ and everyone’s a published author.
But when SI does what it can do best — pair elite writer with a special topic, for a long story, then add elite photos — the magazine shines like a beacon in the sea of sports garble.
Check out the current issue, with an NFL cover, and two stories you shouldn’t miss. The first is by veteran writer L. Jon Wertheim and is slap-your-knee, black-humor hilarious as it describes the exploits of the now-defunct United Hockey League team known as the Danbury (Conn.) Trashers, as in garbage. That short-lived, brawling, sub-legal team was owned by mobster Jimmy Galante and run by his 17-year old president son A.J., until Jimmy ended up back in the big penalty box called federal prison.
The other is by longtime SI senior writer Scott Price, whom you may know by his author’s name of S.L. Price, writing about the magical, excessive and doomed life of Pulitzer Prize-winning sports and political writer Richard Ben Cramer, who died last year of lung cancer at 62.
One of the most brilliant, effervescent, deep-in journalists of his era, Cramer burned brightly, then flamed out like a Roman candle tossed into a deep lake. At least a part of his undoing (besides the chain-smoking) was his association with baseball’s Alex Rodriguez. In short, Cramer had a huge contract to write a book about A-Rod (never written; estate sued for return of the half-million-dollar advance) and became nearly unhinged when he discovered that inside A-Rod there ‘‘was nothing there. A completely vacuous person and a completely vacuous life.’’
Please check it out. ‘‘The Writer and the Puzzle.’’ By great writer Price.
For old times’ sake.