Q&A with Florida president Bernie Machen
Florida president Bernie Machen is the chairman of the SEC's board of directors. While president at Utah, Machen was instrumental in the formation of the Mountain West Conference.
SI: What has changed in terms of the postseason?
Machen: The conversation has now changed. The deadline for the BCS changes is looming. We've got to have it done by this fall. So everyone had sort of been prepared for that to be the date of change. You have to call [Big Ten commissioner Jim] Delany. What happened? He basically changed. And the Pac-12. [SEC commissioner] Mike [Slive] has been out there from the get-go about the plus-one, saying we need to think about this more proactively. The ACC, they were the only ones that backed us up. I don't understand what happened to Delany, to tell you the truth. I like Jim a lot. I think he's a smart guy, but he takes care of the Big Ten. He's changed the conversation just by virtue of saying we can do it.
SI: Who makes the decisions regarding the postseason?
Machen: They just had the BCS meetings, and they put out a thoughtful press release about it. The thing that seems to be missing here... [Former SEC commissioner Roy] Kramer got all the blame or credit for the BCS. This one is going to be driven by the presidents -- and it's going to be driven through the commissioners. But the commissioners are not going to make this decision. The presidents are going to make it. I think a bunch of little things sort of came together at the same time, and they realized that maybe we ought to change.
SI: Why did the sentiment seem to change so quickly?
Machen: The other thing that happened this time is the bowls looked pretty shoddy. The competitive edge, the attendance dropoff. I assume, I didn't check, but the TV ratings. I think people are beginning to realize that the bowl system in its current form -- with 27, 28 bowls -- is probably in some difficulty. That, plus the public demand. Plus, I think the way the conferences are realigning is going to make all of this reasonable now.
SI: So will there be more consolidation?
Machen: I think there will be more consolidation. It's going to be difficult if we went, say, to 16, and we only could get one out of that or two into the mix. I think people are going to be thinking a little more broadly. The commissioners are thinking. I talked to Craig Thompson. They don't want any automatic qualifiers. They want it completely open and have a seeding kind of a deal. ... I saw Craig [in San Francisco] and he asked me about it, and I looked at him and said "Where do we sign?" We would love to open it wide. That would be fine.
SI: Financially, is that a concern?
Machen: The two-team numbers are fine with us. The other schools would argue that we get more than our share, but I don't think we're going to be any worse off. The Super Bowl is No. 1, but we're No. 2. ... We want to see how we can enhance that. Major League Baseball, pro basketball, I think they're going down. So we may have a chance to be more visible, and maybe there will be more money in it for the system. The complication -- currently but less now than it was five years ago -- that there is a lot of loyalty to the bowl system. I think that's changed, and mainly in the past couple of years. And I think it's going to change more. When we get to the point of saying the bowl system doesn't hold together -- especially in the bottom two-thirds of it -- then I think a different system will be a lot easier to approve.
SI: You've been in favor of a playoff for a while. Do you sense that other presidents are more amenable to a playoff?
Machen: I think the conversation is now open. I think you could get enough support for a plus-one. We've got a pretty good deal. Nobody wants to go way out there because things are not bad. When I made that [playoff] pitch in '07, I must have gotten a thousand letters or e-mails. "Now, this is the Joe Schmoe Plan, and you need to know that it's copyrighted. But if you guys want to use it, I'll sell it to you." I immediately threw all of those in the trash can. The structure is not what this is all about. It's the concept. I don't think anyone has a structure that's set in stone, but I think the concept has now gained some acceptance. We may get no further than a plus-one this next round -- which would probably be all right.
SI: What do you see happening in the next few months?
Machen: I think the commissioners are going to come up with some options, and by the summer -- like, by Destin -- I predict we'll have some options to think about. We may not finalize it in Destin, but we will come up with an SEC ratification. What's happening is there is a lot of back-channeling. We've been talking to the Big Ten. We haven't really talked to the ACC or the Big 12. Certainly, the Big Ten and the SEC are likely to have the same proposal. That doesn't mean it'll be the final solution, but I think it would be the dominant one.
SI: You were very vocal about the issue of multiyear athletic scholarships. Are you glad that you'll now be able to offer them?
Machen: I'm happy about it. I think it's the right thing to do for college sports, and I wish it wasn't that close. I was surprised. Mark [Emmert] had been telling us he thought it was going to be closer than we thought, but I didn't think it was going to be that close. I didn't think they would override at all.
[At the NCAA president's retreat last summer], they showed the increased revenue that has come into college sports over the last -- I can't remember whether it was 10 years or 15 years -- and they showed where it has been spent. It has been spent entirely on facilities and coaches salaries. The amount spent on students has not increased at all after all this additional money has gone into college sports. That's just embarrassing.
SI: How do you feel about the cost-of-attendance stipend proposal that has since been tabled?
Machen: The $2,000 was a compromise. The number is actually closer to $4,000 for most schools -- us included. I think it would make a difference, and I think we'll get it sooner or later. The way it was to be handled would be by conference. The problem you're going to have is that if we have to vote that in, the no-money places will never do it.
SI: Were you surprised that four SEC schools voted to override the multiyear scholarship proposal?
Machen: I wanted us to be unanimous. I knew very quickly when I started talking that it wasn't going to happen. The multiyear scholarship is going to make coaches into coaches instead of just being recruiters. Why don't you just take a kid and coach him up? Rick Majerus was the basketball coach at Utah, and he said, "Bernie, I can never get the five-stars, but if I can keep a kid, I can take a project out of high school that has potential and by the time he's a junior, I can have him playing really good ball." In a way, a multiyear would be a leveler in the sense that you've got this kid, and you can't replace him, so why not spend more time developing him into the player you want him to be and he wants to be?