Big 5's big win
A recent vote by the NCAA emphatically embraces the golden rule — he who has the gold makes the rules.
The NCAA last week decided that while all schools are equal, some are more equal than others.
So it is that the so-called Big 5 conferences will be allowed to govern themselves and make rule changes as they see fit. That means that Big Ten schools, including Illinois, as well as those in the Southeastern Conference, ACC, Big 12 and Pacific-12 can use their superior economic resources in ways that financially weaker schools cannot afford to do.
It won't be long before stipends are a routine part of the scholarship package along with other previously unimaginable benefits.
Much to its chagrin, the NCAA is being forced to embrace marketplace realities that are dominated by gazillions of dollars in television money and athlete-led lawsuits that are forcing the organization's honchos to share the wealth.
It is no secret that the Big 5 had talked of going it alone without the NCAA unless some kind of accommodation was reached to allow them to go it alone within the NCAA.
What these big changes will mean to the games the fans love is impossible to predict. The effect on nonrevenue sports could be minimal. But people can expect a totally different story with major college football and basketball.
It may well be that the big schools will be the equivalent of semi-pro teams while the smaller ones continue to embrace the principles of amateurism. If so, it won't be characterized in that fashion, but this is — potentially — the first step down a very steep slope.
One thing's for certain: The big schools will have a definite advantage selling their wares to recruits being sought by schools outside the Big 5.
Some lament this lack of equity. New York Times sports columnist Juliet Macur wrote that there is nothing "equitable and arguably even sportsmanlike" about allowing Big 5 schools to "enrich scholarships, provide better health insurance and loosen the strict relationship between agents and players in ways that few of the other nearly 300 Division 1 sports programs could match."
Point taken. But so what? As President John Kennedy once noted, life is unfair.
Why should the big schools that generate big money be forced to limit their programs just because less-fortunate schools have no choice but to endure penury? Why should athletes at big schools be denied deserved benefits that smaller schools cannot afford?
There always have been haves and have-nots in big-time college sports. The income generated by new television dollars is magnifying that perpetual divide.
Times have changed. Some might not like it. But the horse and buggy is never coming back, and neither are the halcyon days of tow-headed lads playing for fun for their schools in cow pastures.