MORGANTOWN — A proposal to change the college football model to eight 10-team conferences to produce an eight-team playoff of regular-season conference champions rather than the current model that begins this year with a four-team playoff made up of teams from six conferences might make sense, but West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck says it carries some hidden consequences with it.
“Here’s something to think about in conjunction with something like this … and I’ve thought about this independently of football. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years,” Luck said.
“Football, the two basketballs — and maybe you don’t even take women’s basketball because football and men’s basketball are the ones that make money — are sports that play in conferences where there are established rivalries because those are spectator sports,” Luck began.
“There’s a growing number of people in our industry who are delineating between spectator sports — which are football and basketball, which sell tickets and generate money — and participation sports, which are everything else.”
Football and basketball are the leaders. They are the engines that run the athletic departments.
“These people are saying we should separate those two because they have different needs. Rivalries are important for the spectator sports —Texas and Oklahoma, USC and UCLA — and we’re seeing some of those fall away like Pitt and West Virginia and Pitt and Penn State, so clearly fans want those and are willing to shell out money for those, so why not set those apart?”
What Luck says could be done is make these big-time conferences just for football and basketball teams.
The other sports?
“For every other sport you have bus leagues. Mountaineer volleyball — and our coach Jill Kramer is doing a great job, but she would play against Kent State, Ohio U., Marshall, Kentucky, Maryland, Penn State … good programs, but you never get in an airplane until you go to an NCAA championship,” Luck said.
They would not be part of the Big 12, for the Big 12 would be simply a football and basketball league.
“You do that for all your sports,” Luck continued. “The reason people are thinking like that is, ‘My God, do you know how much money we would save?’ The worry a lot of people have, which I think is legitimate, is this full cost of attendance and all this stuff we are going to have to pay for, is going to be a huge drain on budgets. Schools in the other five conferences (other than the power conferences) like the MAC and C-USA, are going to try to keep pace and the only way they can keep pace is to cut sports at the back end.”
Luck sees those sports’ budgets being cut or the sport being dropped entirely to have funds available to run football and basketball as it is being run now.
“‘Sorry,” they will say, ‘that $300,000 we’re spending on the golf course, guess where that’s going. That’s going to pay full cost of attendance for our football team,’” Luck predicted.
“That would be a tragedy. There is a way to completely reshuffle the deck so your Olympic sports aren’t getting on airplanes and flying from Morgantown or Pittsburgh to Lubbock for a volleyball match maybe a 1,000 people are there. You do that in the middle of the week when the girls should be in class.”
There’s some interest in looking at the things that are taking place and see if maybe there is a different structure that would allow these Olympic sports to continue to be funded but no proposal has yet to come forward.
It will take a few years until they iron out the structure for the football and basketball leagues and its playoff system to see the effect it has on the non-revenue sports before any sense of urgency to make chances will come forward.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel