The Great Realignment & Student-Athlete Wellbeing

Sunday, September 18, 2022 - It was bombshell news when the Big Ten announced this summer that UCLA and USC would be joining the conference in two years. Many think this latest edition of athletic conference realignment in higher ed has nothing to do with the wellbeing of students and it’s all about the money for their institutions. Reporter Matt Brown from The Athletic and Arizona State University sports historian Victoria Jackson break down why the conferences have so much power over the historical foundations of American higher education. This episode made possible with sponsorship from Ascendium Education Group and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Transcript

Kevin Warren:

But what are the opportunities that now that we are across four time zones, now that we do have schools in 2024, that will reach from New York, New Jersey to Los Angeles. What are the different cultural elements in each one of those environments? Not only in the cities, but with their alumni, that we could even fortify our educational relationship with our student athletes.

Michael Horn:

That's Big Ten Commissioner, Kevin Warren speaking to the press at football media days about the bombshell news that UCLA and USC would be joining the Big Ten in two years.

Jeff Selingo:

You know Michael, and it's interesting how Kevin talks about the opportunities for student athletes there. Although so many think this latest edition of athletic conference realignment in higher ed really has nothing to do with the wellbeing of students. And it's all about the money for their institutions. We're going to break down why the conferences have so much power over the historical foundations of American higher education on this episode of Future U.

Sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, working to eliminate, race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success through innovation, data and information, policy, and institutional transformation. 

This episode of Future U. is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group. A nonprofit organization, committed to helping learners from low-income backgrounds, reach their education and career goals. For more information, visit Ascendiumphilanthropy.org. 

Subscribe to Future U. wherever you get your podcasts and follow us on Twitter at the handle, FutureUPodcast. And if you enjoy the show, please give us a five star rating so others can discover the conversations we're having about higher education.

Jeff Selingo:

I'm Jeff Selingo.

Michael Horn:

And I'm Michael Horn. As Commissioner Kevin Warren alluded to in his remarks to the top of the show, the Big Ten now is the first collegiate conference to stretch from the Atlantic, with Rutgers in New Jersey and the University of Maryland, yes, fear the turtle, to now UCLA and USC in California. Jeff, it's quite remarkable and I would say for us at least, unexpected.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah Michael, as someone who grew up in Pennsylvania, one of my earliest memories is of Penn State Football winning the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship against Herschel Walker's Georgia in 1983, when Penn state was independent. And then it was a decade later when they joined the Big Ten. And there were so many fan complaints about moving away from their independent status at that time. And that move was less than 30 years ago. But now given the seismic shifts in these conferences, it seems like it might have been a good time then to, kind of, solidify their position rather than be many of the schools on the West Coast right now, or in the Pac-12 or the ACC, for example, who are now really kind of on the outside, looking in at these mega conferences in the Big Ten and the SEC.

Michael Horn:

And Jeff, for our listeners I'll just say, no, Future U. has not suddenly been bought by ESPN and Disney or the New York Times and The Athletic. We're not turning this into a show about athletics, but it's fair to say, we've been threatening to do a show on athletics for a while. And that athletics has been sometimes referred to as, "The front porch of the university." Meaning it's the most visible part of American higher education for many onlookers, and whether it's the most visible and elite division of college athletics, Division I, which we're going to focus more on today, or even the biggest division, Division III, where athletics is critical to enrollment at so many small colleges, or frankly it plays an out-sized role in how certain students get into elite colleges. We're really learning that and the big admissions lawsuit over affirmative action at Harvard. Sports are a part of the fabric and finances of higher education in a way that we just can't ignore when we're talking about the future of the university.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah Michael, and there's just so much to talk about on this subject that we're actually going to spread this conversation with our two guests today, over two episodes of Future U. And so today with us, we have Victoria Jackson who is a Sports Historian at Arizona State University who researches the intersection of sport and society. And not only that, she was also a cross country and track and field athlete for UNC and ASU and a professional runner herself who's endorsed by Nike. So she really comes at this issue from many different perspectives.

Michael Horn:

And Jeff also with us today is Matt Brown who writes a terrific newsletter called Extra Points, which covers all the off field issues that shape college sports. And it's part of a family of newsletters that covers the business of college athletics. And with that Matt and Victoria, welcome to Future U.

Matt Brown:

Thanks so much. I'm very excited to be here.

Victoria Jackson:

Me too.

Michael Horn:

Terrific. Well, I'm looking forward to the conversation and Victoria, I'd love to start with you as a sports historian and I'd love for you to help put this moment that we're in or really these last couple years around conference realignment, NIL student athletes, being able to monetize their name, image and likeness television deals expanding the D1 college football playoff athlete compensation on and on. I'd love you to put it in some sort of context for us. Has there ever been a moment like this, where the basic foundations of collegiate athletics have changed this quickly, this fast?

Victoria Jackson:

I love this question because it's not typically when I get, and it allows me to say that the history of college sports has always been like this. It's a history of just constant change. Change is the name of the game. And that's in part a reflection of the weirdness of this system. We're the only place in the world that moved away from soccer, right? American football was invented on college campuses out of that game. And so it's allowed us to develop in a really distinctive kind of American exceptionalism way. We're the only place that plays this sport and the history of American college sports is a history of college football. And so that kind of combination elite sports development in schools, American football, instead of soccer, and then a clinging to amateurism when the rest of the world moved away from it makes this just this weird thing that we're trying to figure out as we go.

Victoria Jackson:

So it's always chaos. There was a crisis moment about a decade ago in 2014. And that for me is the beginning of what makes this moment of chaos distinctive from the rest we're in the final act of a near 40-year process of schools through their conferences, trying to reclaim football money and power from the NCAA, whether it was the schools coming together to bust the NCAA TV monopoly in 1984. Now we're really seeing something different. And that's because since 2014, the leaders of American universities hired people to run college football, like a 21st century sports business, like the rest of the world. So they hired people from professional sports, primarily from the NFL conference commissioners and athletic directors. And they were given the green light to develop this in the way the rest of the world was developing professional sports, the media rights deals that we're seeing, the autonomy move, the launch of the college football playoff in 2014.

Victoria Jackson:

What this has done, it doubled the money among the power of five universities in about a five year period from 2014 to the eve of the pandemic, and then trying to clinging to these old ideas of what it means to be a college athlete and that a football athlete deserves what all other students at a university deserve, that that priceless college scholarship is fair trade off for this massive growing economically system doesn't work. And so because they haven't brought along football athletes for the ride outside forces, since 2014 have been forcing universities to do better and treat football athletes like you see other athletes being treated in professional sports around the world, whether that's through antitrust lawsuits or widespread kind of public pressure. The big change since 2014 is that public opinion has shifted. People understand that football athletes deserve a better deal, California passing the fair pay to play act, right? State legislation getting involved in this way. So because the schools haven't done it themselves because outside forces are forcing schools to do better. That's the chaos that we see in this moment that makes this moment distinctive from the past.

Jeff Selingo:

So if this is a... if there's a distinctive chaos to this moment, let's map, let's dig into some of the issues a bit deeper and what they mean, not only for intercollegiate athletics, but also given the name of this podcast, what they mean for the future of higher ed in general. And let's start with conference realignment because last year when the SEC announced Texas and Oklahoma would join them leaving the Big 12 by 2025, I guess we thought maybe conference realignment, dating back a decade ago to when Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten, maybe it was over, but then there's this bombshell over the summer with UCLA and USC bolting for the Big Ten. I'm not really sure anyone saw that coming because always when there's been talk of the Big Ten expanding, the rumor was really always Notre Dame, right? So why UCLA and USC? Is it all about the LA television market?

Matt Brown:

It's certainly primarily about the Los Angeles television market. Although I wouldn't say that's the only reason that's involved. LA is the second largest TV market in the United States. It's a gigantic center for not just college football fans generally, but a lot of Big Ten graduates end up in Southern California. And then it's an important place for athlete recruitment, primarily high school football, but also volleyball, basketball, softball, a lot of other sports produce four and five star athletes in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. But it's not just a complete television cash grab here. Part of this is the Big Ten, unlike many other power five or even mid-major conferences still retains a fairly strong institutional identity. The Big Ten schools might not all be Midwestern anymore, but they're all large research-focused institutions that are generally recruiting similar kinds of students. And that mostly fits the profile of what USC and UCLA are.

Matt Brown:

They share some similarities as a school to what Michigan and Wisconsin and Illinois are. And that's important because we're not just looking at an era like Dr. Jackson was talking about here of re-imagining what it means to be a college athletic department and a need to consolidate more and more revenue. It's also a time of political upheaval. The Division I constitution is being rewritten right now, likely to be rewritten… next draft in early January. And by adding USC and UCLA to enormous brands, the Big Ten also takes a step towards consolidating political power and administrative power within the NCAA.

Matt Brown:

And so if you're able to do this, and I don't think they're done, maybe a unique cap, what's left of the Pac-12, or you shift... other people end up shifting here suddenly if you've got 20 teams and maybe the SEC in some future date, has 20 teams. The two of you combine wield more power than the rest of the NCAA does put together, not just financially, but in terms of who's running what committee. So there's other things going on here besides just television. Although boy, howdy, this wouldn't be happening if it wasn't for television.

Jeff Selingo:

So Victoria, we're both affiliated at ASU. So I'm sure there was some unhappiness there when the two premier members of the Pac-12 left, but there's a lot that's not being talked about in all the discussion about realignment. And one is travel for all the other sports besides football and basketball. So what about that? And what else does higher education as a sector really need to consider in all the hoopla over conference realignment.

Victoria Jackson:

This is a football decision. That's going to have a pretty wild effect on athletes who play other sports, like the greatest impact of this move for UCLA and USC students is among the Olympic sport athletes. And by that, I mean all sports but football, right? 'Cause football you're typically playing on a Saturday, although who knows, maybe now you play on a Thursday night. And so you're not going to miss as much class. If you're not traveling as frequently, you don't play as many games. And half of those typically are at home during your conference schedule. So the least amount of impact is going to be on football players who also fly charter. The greatest impact is going to be on volleyball, softball, baseball, hockey, don't think those two schools have hockey, but we do at ASU. So maybe that's coming next and our basketball teams, and this is a conference that's coast to coast.

Victoria Jackson:

That doesn't mean just distance travel. That means time zones. That means red eyes. That means extra travel days added on that means less sleep. And what we know about less sleep for college athletes is that we have already been in the midst of a mental health crisis, like pre pandemic college athletes had identified a mental health crisis. And one thing I know that really exacerbates that is disrupted sleep. Missed class, so academic performance is going to be affected. And injuries, you're more likely to get hurt when you're tired and putting a lot of stress on your body. So this isn't great for athletes in other sports. That said, I think the one thing we could be paying a little bit more attention to is that we're not at the end stage of this final act. Like it could be that the Pac-12 and the Big Ten are ending up in some sort of broader sports Alliance.

Victoria Jackson:

And I'm saying that kind of tongue in cheek because the Big Ten move killed the Alliance among the Big Ten ACC and Pac-12. But there could be an end result where these other sports are still playing locally against each other. For example, the Mountain Pacific sports Federation could be a good backup plan for these schools in the Western states. There is no indoor track and field Pac-12 meet. So we would participate in the MPSF so there's an opportunity there.

Victoria Jackson:

As far as solutions, the athletic director, Martin Jarmond, at UCLA said, this is saving Olympic sports. This move and this cash means we don't have to cut Olympic sports now, and that's a little bit disingenuous, but I do think from an outsider's perspective, I think he truly believes that they were in a position where they needed to come up with some money quick, or they were going to have to start making budget cuts. I think the opportunity here for other sports is to realize we need a different system, that football decisions driving what's happening in other sports, isn't the best way forward. And my hope and my optimism here is that we're going to see soon from leadership within intercollegiate athletics, a kind of separating out of organizational design and structures for football and for other sports.

Michael Horn:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. But you also alluded before that might happen, that there might be more realignment that could come. And that's where I want to stay for a moment. Matt, namely, what's next for realignment and big picture. Is it done for now? Does the Pac-12 survive? Do we have two mega conferences and then everyone else and NBC really wants to know, does Notre Dame football finally join a conference? Matt?

Matt Brown:

Yeah, I don't think we are done and part because I think we barely stopped and I recognize that some of these moves were not necessarily the most interesting or sexy to non-hardcore sports fans, but the change from Texas and Oklahoma joining the SCC really set off a domino effect that took an entire year to move through, right? If those two teams go join the SCC, even the Big 12 has to add teams from the American athletic, the American athletic adds teams from conference USA who adds teams from FCS. And the next thing you know, this is also a catalyst that's maybe pushed some other decisions that had nothing to do with football that people were just thinking about. And the next you know, Belmont is in the Missouri valley Conference and schools in New England are changing and it really impacted the entire country. So I would imagine there's a good chance that could happen again with these two Los Angeles schools going to the Big Ten.

Matt Brown:

If you're an administrator at a Mountain West institution or potentially a Missouri valley Football Conference institution at the FCS level, you need to game out plan A, B, C or D because you may be losing a member in the near future. What I can report, and this is confirming some things that Brett McMurphy at The Action Network and formerly of ESPN shared a few weeks ago is Oregon and Washington, have had conversations with the Big Ten. They've brought in television consultants. They've brought in attorneys to better assess the value from a broadcast perspective of those two institutions. They're obviously much smaller markets. They don't have the same history. They don't have the same fan base, but still big time AAU schools, we know that what Oregon brings to the table from a branding perspective, that's unique. And I joke with people, if I knew exactly what was happening in those meetings, my newsletter would cost a lot more than eight bucks a month.

Matt Brown:

I would be in a different line of work. I don't know exactly, but it is a safe assumption right now. If you were an athletic director or a university president or inside council, for one of those schools, you are racking up some billable hours right now, going through contingency plans and trying to facilitate a way, hey, if we are moving towards some kind of consolidation where we had maybe 65 teams with power and now maybe it's going to become 48 or 44. My God, what can we do to put ourselves on the right side of the cutoff line?

Jeff Selingo:

So I've heard more about Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in recent weeks than I've heard about the head of the NCAA Mark Emmert, who of course this is his last year. And so the NCAA of course is the governing body of collegiate athletics. But it seems like the conferences are essentially usurping that. And so Victoria, who do you think the ADs and the presidents feel more loyalty to right now? Is it the NCAA or is it their conference?

Victoria Jackson:

Well, I think one way to answer this is that the NCAA isn't really a governing body though. It kind of uses that as a front, it's a membership association. And so that becomes a convenient front too. When you don't really want to take something on, you can be like, "oh, home rules" schools know how to do this best. And the reason I say that is we have not seen strong leadership and clear assertive enforceable principles from the NCAA with so many opportunities to introduce them.

Victoria Jackson:

We haven't seen them, whether it's football players dying and passing protocols for off season workouts. And what happens when an athlete gets heatstroke, here's the protocol you follow, the NCAA didn't step up and do that. More recently, the case of racist abuse endured by Duke volleyball player, Rachel Richardson, while she was at BYU. Like if the NCAA had enforceable guiding principles, we'd have a protocol in place like what we see with FIFA about what to do when there's a racist incident and racist speech at a sporting event. There's a protocol in place in global soccer and we don't have that with the NCAA. If we had strong leadership, we would've seen the NCAA come out hard against the Dobbs opinion because that's an issue facing access for women college athletes. Educational access and the access to play school sports. And so there was a leadership vacuum and I think the conferences have stepped into that. Kevin Warren kind of explicitly following an NFL model. Again, this is like we are following professional sports.

Jeff Selingo:

He is almost like the NFL commissioner in that way. So it makes you wonder what's next for the NCAA then, Matt right? With Mark Emmert stepping down, especially since a college president has largely led that organization during the time, at least I've covered higher ed, is that what they really need right now is another college president to move into that role or do they need something completely different at the NCAA?

Matt Brown:

I'm inclined to think they need something different, but a lot of this depends on a question that's still trying to be solved right now, which, who do we think should make up the NCAA? And Victoria brings up a great point that it's easy when the Indianapolis is doing something that we don't like to blame it on something that's happening from the central organized body in Indie, but it is a membership driven institution and the things that people generally don't like about it being unable to act quickly or decisively or at all. That's a structure set up because presidents at Michigan and Washington and LSU want it that way. But beyond those kind of schools, there's a ton of different kind of institutions, even just in Division I right now. And this is one of the central points of tension because the issues that are important for LSU athletics or for alma mater Ohio state, or for Arizona State, places that have athletic budgets north of $140 million are very different from what's important to Ohio University in Grand Canyon.

Matt Brown:

They're very different from Southeastern Louisiana or from many HBCUs or from some of these regional state schools and tuition-dependent private schools with 3000 students. And they're all part of Division I right now. So to figuring out, I think, what are the professional qualifications you want from a leader? It depends on where you draw that line.

Matt Brown:

Do you try to maintain a Division I that contains 350 odd institutions from Illinois to Chicago state? Do you try to maybe move some of those into what was Division II or do you try to create different cutoff lines and different university leaders, both from power five institutions and mid majors and elsewhere across the board? I think I feel very differently about this, the way a part of the struggle this entire operation is you can get general consensus from talking to a president or an AD or a dork reporter like me about what some of these major issues are. There's nothing close to consensus about how to solve them even within this group. So I am skeptical that there's going to be truly transformational change within NCAA governance because we're still dealing with the same people that set up the system that everyone agrees is broken. It's probably more likely that if it gets transformationally changed, like Victoria alerted to it's because of outside pressure. It's because the courts or for lawmakers or activists make them do it.

Michael Horn:

So we're going to take a pause there in our conversation, and we're going to come back right after this break on Future U for Jeff and I to react to this first part of our conversation with Victoria Jackson and Matt brown.

Jeff Selingo:

This episode is being brought to you by The Bill and Melinda gates foundation. Today's college students are more than just students. They are workers, parents, and caregivers and neighbors and colleges and universities need to change to meet their changing needs. Learn more about the foundation's efforts to transform institutions, to be more student centered at usprogram.gatesfoundation.org.

Michael Horn:

This episode of Future U. is sponsored by Ascendum education group, a nonprofit organization, committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds, reach their education and career goals. Ascendium believes that system level change and a student-centric approach are important for our nation's efforts to boost post-secondary education and workforce training opportunities. That's why their philanthropy aims to remove systemic barriers faced by these learners. Specifically first generation students, incarcerated adults, veterans, students of color, adult learners, and rural community members for more information visit ascendumphilanthropy.org.

Michael Horn:

Welcome back to Future U. and Jeff. We have so much more to talk about with Victoria and Matt, including athletes getting paid and how to fix college sports. That we're going to bring you in a separate episode because I just have to be honest on a couple fronts. First, that was just a fascinating conversation, Jeff. And I confess, I don't know what I was expecting headed in, but it was frankly just delightful. I learned a lot and it made me think of all sorts of other topics around the future of higher ed that will get into it other times. But yeah, the word I'll use upfront was it was just delightful,

Jeff Selingo:

Historical context, Michael seems to be everything. And in college athletics, I think as fans, we seem to remember those pivotal games from 30 years ago, but not the debates about college athletics that happened off the field 30 years ago. So Victoria putting this moment in context and also a global context about the role of sports in higher education and the amateur nature of it and that football really as a uniquely American sport, I think is really critically important to set up this conversation.

Michael Horn:

Yeah. I couldn't agree more just in terms of the exceptionalism, not better than, but just different from yeah, I think is really important. The other moment of honesty, I'll say for the audience at the end of our conversation, Jeff, when we stopped recording without betraying too much, Matt was asking us and when the interview would air and we gave him at first an answer that he didn't like, because he said, "look, this conference realignment conversation is moving so quickly that anything we might have said could be out of date, so you might want to get that part of the conversation out faster."

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, that's right. Michael, I think he really scared us into getting that interview out into the world as quickly as possible. So that the news wouldn't scoop us. So I'm kind of curious for some of your reaction here, you're a professional sports fan like I am. What do you make of Victoria's point that beginning a decade ago, the conferences really switched from a mindset of amateur sports to professional sports, really given the potential of networks and these big media deals.

Michael Horn:

Jeff. So I admit it was fascinating for me because as you noted, I come to this conversation from such a different knowledge base, to be honest. Obviously I'm a big pro sports fan, as you acknowledged. And I broadcasted college sports, everything from football to basketball, to baseball and lacrosse, but I did so at the Ivy league and my good friend and first roommate actually had a college, wrote a senior history thesis on the history of the formation of the Ivy league, which doesn't even award athletic scholarships. So while I'm a fan of college sports beyond that, for sure, I hadn't paused to think about just how significant the shift is to people with very different backgrounds in these positions. And I spent some time looking it up before we recorded this segment because the switch to this pro sports mentality, a revenue generating mentality, I think as you pointed out to me really started with the launch of stations like the Big Ten Network on TV, but it's also the case that the commissioners are gradually starting to come from more sports backgrounds themselves.

Michael Horn:

And it's not universal by any means. I looked it up there's exceptions. The head of the ACC for example, or even the athletic director at the University of Alabama. But there is this undeniable trend. And I'll say, I think it makes sense when you step back and think in a more macro way about the position of universities right now, with all the business model and marketing challenges that we talk so much about on the show, Jeff, that they want to monetize something that is clearly monetizable, bring in revenue and the look, the role of live sports and revenue more broadly. It's the one part of the TV stack, maybe alongside breaking news, that's currently holding its value in this era of streamed everything it makes just for a really interesting dynamic.

Michael Horn:

And I guess the other part that I'm curious, your take on is against that backdrop. Matt made the point that, "yeah, there's the dollars and the TV part of this," but it's a point you've made on past shows as well. That the Big Ten, even with USC and UCLA, they're not just a random collection of institutions that are good at sports and will attract a big audience and bring in the Benjamins. But unlike most other conferences, there are also a collection of similar academic institutions. So clearly sports and media are driving part of this, but you've made the point that it's more than that, Jeff.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. So Michael, a few years ago, I worked on a research project for the Big Ten academic alliance. And as I mentioned on the opening episode this season, this alliance was put together back in the late 1950s to mirror the athletic conference. And it was, for much of its history, it was known as the committee on institutional cooperation or the CIC. And over the following decades, the CIC helped spearhead collaboration among the Big Ten institutions on a variety of issues from curriculum development to joint academic programs. In the 1980s, the universities built a fiber optic network to connect themselves to each other and to other research centers around the world. Other large scale projects followed joint licensing agreements for software or partnership with Google to digitize millions of bound volumes in their library collections, course sharing for dozens of language classes. It was really quite remarkable.

Jeff Selingo:

And a few years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson foundation had funded programs around what they call the culture of health through the Big Ten academic alliance. They basically wanted to use the research function of the Big Ten universities to solve for health disparities, inequities in those states. And given many of the Big Ten universities are land grant universities, it's really within their public mission. Well, to make a long story somewhat shorter, the Robert Wood Johnson foundation wondered how they can scale this project through other consortia in higher ed. They wanted to do this at other universities. And one of the questions I was asked to research is whether the other athletic conferences can be used in much the same way like the Big Ten, as an academic alliance. And it was really a fascinating project because I got to talk to a lot of presidents, provosts, VPs for research and academic organizations like the Big Ten academic alliance, but in other conferences and got to visit the Big Ten offices near O'Hare airport in Chicago.

Jeff Selingo:

And when I was talking to those other academic alliances in other conferences, I really found that no one acts like the Big Ten and it was really for this reason, institutional leaders want to work with those they see as their peers. And some alliances, especially those that have come together for athletics or geography can really include a broad range of academic profiles among institutions.

Jeff Selingo:

So take the ACC as an example, they have something called the ACC academic consortium. And the coordinator of that consortium told me at the time, we run from Duke to Louisville and they are simply not in the same league of academic respect, right? So we've got a set of institutions who aspire to be collaborating with a different set of institutions, not those institutions within their athletic conference. In this case, a campus like Duke would prefer to work with another prestigious private university, right? Instead of a public campus in its athletic conference. So I think the point Matt made about similarities is important. And it's why I think any talk of the Big Ten getting even bigger is really focused on places like Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, right? Those places that from a academic standpoint and a research standpoint are really similar,

Michael Horn:

Not just because of great brands like The Mighty Ducks, but the...

Jeff Selingo:

And the Nike... the Nike connection too, 

Michael Horn:

Yeah, Nike right, connection as well. Yeah. No, I think it's a good point, but it's interesting just how much collaboration there is and what you just talked about Jeff and how much that collaboration is around research also, which yet again, is that part of the university that it doesn't get a lot of attention from the media and so forth, but from a societal perspective, from a contribution to humanity perspective, it's a really significant part of what higher ed does.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, no doubt, Michael, but I want to shift a little bit because Victoria raised the point that the UCLA athletic director said this move, "saved the Olympic sports at the university." Since the athletics department at UCLA had this huge deficit, I think of something north of $100 million and likely would've had to cut sports to close that gap. Yet, as Victoria pointed out this move by UCLA and USC to go to the Big Ten is probably going to have the biggest impact on Olympic sports, from volleyball to tennis, to softball, not only in the number of games they must now play coast to coast, but also in time zone changes. And I'll tell you that as somebody who has traveled to college campuses at West Lafayette, at Urbana Champaign or State College, these are not easy places to get to at all.

Michael Horn:

Very true, Jeff. And I'll say I've also been on the bus ride with teams when I was broadcasting going from New York city to a town you know well, Ithaca. And it was no walk in the park getting in at 3:00 in the morning, it's taxing, it's draining. And that part of the equation, Jeff, around student health, physically and mentally, and really not just health, but wellness is something as a society that we've all sort of woken up to recently. But it seems like there's this frankly undermining of that here with this announcement at a time when health and wellness of our students is in a really bad place. And that of course ties into student success, which suffice to say it's more than we can get into here, Jeff. But it's a really important topic. And I guess it raises the question of what's the job of the athletic director at these institutions.

Michael Horn:

What's the job of the commissioner of these conferences. And it gets back to the question that you asked me about the background shifting from amateur and college backgrounds to serious professional experience. Because universities like it or not, faculty can take it or leave it, but they are big businesses. And here's the perfect example of that front and center. Now to tease something that Victoria talked about later in the conversation, which is an obvious fix at the moment, which is that ultimately football and perhaps men's basketball should get pulled apart from the Olympic sports. And those ought to get more aligned with the Olympic associations themselves into something far more coherent. And I, as a parent watching gymnastics these days and you with your kids in swimming, our daughters are super into each of these. I think that alignment is something that I don't know, I think I would welcome if it meant a greater focus on student health and wellness.

Michael Horn:

And I know that's no guarantee, but it's the focus that I would want to have. It also points to something else, Jeff, which is the game of really power and politics that Matt and Victoria both spoke about at different times, which is to stay, schools resting the power of their brands and dollars and control back from the NCAA, which I and so many others have viewed as just a joke on so many of these questions around what's in the best interests of the student athletes. But I'm curious because you followed this more than I have. What do you think the NCAA will do in response? We may wish that organizations existed for the interests of their constituents when they're a membership based organization, but at some point they represent their own institutional interests first. So what's your expectation as they search for replacement of Emmert.

Jeff Selingo:

So Michael, this whole conversation about the divide between the conferences and the NCAA and now the conference is having so much power and so much money. And you have so much of the money for the NCAA is really caught up in the basketball tournament and largely in the men's basketball tournament, which was really at the center of that debate a couple of years ago. About March Madness and the women's tournament versus the men's tournament. And we're going to be talking on the next show with Victoria and Matt about changes in men's basketball in particular, and that could lead to more changes in the tournament and really trying to avoid losing a lot of revenue. I mean that CBS sports contract for the NCAA is worth so much money and it's really where all their money is. But as we think about Emmert, in particular Emmert and other NCAA presidents, as I alluded to, since I've been covering higher ed all came from the college presidency.

Jeff Selingo:

And I'm wondering if that's really the job of somebody else now to try to protect the NCAA as a membership organization, or maybe we just say it's time to blow up Indianapolis, not the city, by the way, the Indianapolis is where the NCAA is housed. And I think it largely comes down to college presidents and whether they want to take this on and I'm not quite sure they do. College presidents really have to say, we're going to rest control back on college athletics. We think the NCAA is a great organization to do that. We're going to install somebody in there who is going to be a reformist in a way, is going to take on the conferences. But if all the power and the money and the media is with the conferences, I think in some ways it's too late and I'm not quite sure who they're going to hire to do that.

Jeff Selingo:

And it just seems like... we had Doug Letterman on early on in future U, I think it might have been in the first season 6, 5, 6 years ago. And I feel like we had the same exact conversation about presidents taking much more of a leadership role on at college athletics, not letting the ADs really run this, not letting the conferences really run this. But at the end of the day, colleges, universities need money and they need money to run these athletic programs and that money for the most part now, especially at these big institutions in these big power conferences is coming from the conferences, not from the NCAA. And so at the end of the day, I think they're just going to say, "NCAA, you do what you want, are your powers with the conferences."

Michael Horn:

I think that's all right, Jeff. And it's going to be, I mean, get your popcorn, right? Because so much is moving right now. It is going to be fascinating to watch this. I know we have one more episode to come on this. So stay tuned for the rest of our conversation with Victoria and Matt, but there's going to be more to come, I suspect on this as well that we will want to cover on Future U. So stay tuned, but for now, thank you for joining us. We'll see you next time on Future U.

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