The Ackerman Report (11): Who's in charge here?

October 10, 2013 - 10:40am

(This is the 11th in a series of commentaries on Val Ackerman’s report on the state of NCAA women’s basketball.)

Val Ackerman’s charge was to look at NCAA women’s basketball, and the piece of her report about governance focused solely on groups that had influence within the collegiate structure. That made sense in terms of her task, but in reality, few significant changes can be made without the approval of outside entities as well.

Still, Ackerman’s list of NCAA committees makes it clear that even within the organization, power is split up too many ways. Here’s her list:

*Division I Women’s Basketball Committee

*Division I Women’s Basketball Issue Committee

*Women’s Basketball Rules Committee

*Women’s College Basketball Officiating Board of Managers

*Women’s College Basketball Officiating Mechanics Committee

*Women’s College Basketball Officiating Competition Committee

*Committee on Women’s Athletics

*Women’s Basketball Coaches Assocation

*NCAA national office

*Conference offices

Clearly, getting all those groups to agree on any kind of fundamental reform would be enormously difficult. Turf wars are part of human nature, and in an ossified, inefficient organization such as the NCAA, they’re even worse.

That of course is part of the reason that the football-playing schools want major changes in the NCAA, and it’s likely whatever those changes are will trickle down to have some impact on women’s basketball. Still, while college presidents are voting on restructuring, it certainly would make sense to get rid of at least half the committees Ackerman lists, or if nothing else, streamline the decision-making process so that there’s just one voice, say, from the officiating side of things.

(And by the way, notice there are no committees that represent the athletes. They are the engine that drives the car, but their concerns are apparently unworthy of any discussion, except perhaps for a token seat on a committee or two. Of course, the NCAA’s last concern is the student-athlete; its job is to make money for the universities while at the same time holding on to its power.)

But even if all those ducks were somehow lined up in a neat row (though the quacking would be deafening), NCAA women’s basketball is at the same time at the mercy of more than a few powerful outside entities that have control over perhaps the single most important aspect of putting a quality product on the floor: Player development. And of course, then there’s money, and we’ll start with that.

Television: Professional sports (and college basketball is most certainly a professional sport, regardless of how the players are paid) depend on television income to survive. Women’s basketball is good for TV due to its familiarity with fans and its clearly defined time demands, so it’s a product worth having. At the same time, though, it’s hardly essential. Networks of whatever kind want football and men’s basketball, and everything else is pretty much an afterthought, so whatever happens inside NCAA women’s basketball must keep the TV folks happy, and the TV dollars flowing.

AAU/Club basketball: Often, “AAU” is used as shorthand for the non-high school youth basketball programs and tournaments, but the Amateur Athletic Union is just part of a huge industry that starts in elementary school. Club teams generate income for club directors, and tournaments produce lots of money for whoever puts them on. Any attempt by the NCAA to control the number of tournaments or dictate how the non-scholastic season should work must take into account the threat of legal action by people who are making lots of money in the present system. In other words, the NCAA does not operate in a vacuum, and cannot simply mandate, say, that young players spend more time on fundamentals and less time playing games.

National Federation of High Schools: Generally, the NCAA and the NHFS will align, as both profess to support athletics and academics, but again, any kind of NCAA reform that impacts high school students is going to have be approved by the NFHS as well.

USA Basketball: Supposedly, USA Basketball, which is a branch of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is responsible for all amateur basketball in the country, but it too has limited power. USA Basketball tried to get all the stakeholders to talk about changing the system so that American men would be more competitive on the international scene (the women dominate; the men do not), but talks quickly broke down because all the groups had different goals, and none wanted to give up any power.

One of those groups was the NCAA, but this goes both ways: The NCAA can’t just decide to change its season, say, without taking into account USA Basketball’s schedule and requirements.

WNBA: Elite players look to a career in the WNBA, but the women’s professional league has protected the college game by preventing players from being drafted until after they’ve spent four years in college (generally). This rule would not stand up to a legal challenge, and in fact an argument could be made that the WNBA hurts itself by having players like Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne sell tickets to college games instead of pro games.

The WNBA also plays in the summer, leaving the broadcast and media attention to the women’s game in the winter, but any major moves by the NCAA that could negatively impact the WNBA could lead to the pro league changing its own rules in response.

FIBA: The world-wide governing body of basketball has little interest in the NCAA – unless changes would impact its summer championships. On the other hand, the NCAA would like FIBA’s rules about paying young players to change so that the NCAA can maintain the fiction that athletes who are getting an in-kind payment of a full college scholarship are still “amateurs” (whatever that might mean).

FIBA’s involvement is not that major, but to ignore its interests could turn into a serious mistake.

Title IX: This isn’t a committee, but it’s decided by a committee known as the United State Congress, and if Title IX’s interpretation is ever significantly changed, it could have a huge impact on all women’s sports. Given a choice, it’s hard to believe universities would lose tens of millions of dollars a year – if not hundreds of millions – on women’s sports, so whatever reforms the NCAA might propose, they definitely cannot threaten Congressional support of Title IX or the whole structure would fall apart.

Put all of the pieces of this puzzle together, and you have a crazy jigsaw that makes the psychedelic ‘60s look like Aristotelian logic. To imagine that any kind of deep-seated reform would pass muster with all the NCAA committees, much less all the other stakeholders, would take some serious hallucinogenics to seem plausible.

So the reality, then, is small steps – and the reality, then, that any major changes are about as likely as tie-dyed t-shirts becoming acceptable formal attire.