Q&A with Georgia president Michael Adams
Georgia president Michael Adams is the former chairman of the NCAA Executive Committee. He also was a candidate to replace the late Myles Brand as the NCAA's president.
SI: How did you feel about the multiyear scholarship proposal?
Adams: I think it's the right thing to do. I was a little surprised, frankly, that it was sustained given some of the reactions from people since all of the chest-beating we did in Indianapolis last year about how reform-minded we were going to be. I'm pretty proud the SEC led the charge on that. ... I believe we ought to make a four- or five-year commitment to a young person, and he or she should make a four- or five-year commitment to us. I don't view college athletic opportunities as tryouts. I view them as a commitment to go to school and get a degree and be an athlete in the process. That's what this should at least make more feasible. I certainly don't think it's a perfect solution to coaches running off kids, but it ought to make a coach stop and think twice about whether or not this young person has the capacity to both get a degree and to perform at a high level for a four- or five-year period.
SI: How did you feel about the cost-of-attendance stipend proposal?
Adams: I think there were at least two impetuses -- maybe more. The first, frankly, was the lawsuit. Secondly, there were a lot of us who felt like that if you were going to tell a kid it was a full-cost-of-attendance [scholarship], it ought to be the full cost of attendance. Frankly, for those of us in the major conferences, while it is a significant amount of money, it's not a deal-breaker. It, frankly, would solve some of the issues, which, frankly, are partly true and partly old wives tales about a student-athlete who doesn't have pizza money or whatever. There are legitimate ways right now to get students money. We have this Opportunity Fund that we enhanced when I was chairman of the NCAA. Myles [Brand] was very interested in it. If a kid needs clothing or needs to go to grandma's funeral, there are ways to take care of that now. ... There probably are young people who need more, but on some campuses student-athletes are some of the best well-off students because their tuition and books and room and board and many of their needs are taken care of. But if it made the process look and feel and be more legitimate for the student-athlete, then I was for it. I spoke in favor of it at the presidents' meeting. I think if we are taking care of coaches and staff at the level that we are, that it probably made sense to make sure we were being fair to the student athlete.
SI: Do you worry that the cost-of-attendance stipend issue will create a schism in the FBS or even in the whole of Division I?
Adams: The schism already exists. We'll argue whether its five or six power conferences today given what's happened to the Big East, but the power conferences, the automatic-qualifier conferences, for the most part are in an entirely different financial realm than the other conferences. In the last couple of years that I was on the board, every issue became seen at the Division I level through a prism that sort of separated out the quote-unquote haves and have-nots. The Division I membership in the non-AQ conferences have increasingly wanted to make rules and regulations out of what are probably sensible motives to protect their financial interests. But they've wanted to make rules that the bigger conferences have frankly chafed under. That's been a major, growing issue at the NCAA. There are huge disparities in Division I, and we haven't come close to solving it yet.
SI: Has there been talk of separating the divisions further?
Adams: I chaired a commission about five years ago... whether to divide Division III. There are huge disparities there between a Wisconsin-Whitewater and a Centre College or a Rhodes College or a Washington and Lee. We've looked at divisions there, and we've looked at additional divisions in Division I. A lot of people want to be Division I who don't want to do Division I. That creates a real and growing disparity among the Division I members. It is now at the surface of most of the quote-unquote political decisions that get made.
SI: Where do you stand on the college football postseason?
Adams: I'm exactly where I was when I proposed it in '08. I'd like to see an eight-team playoff. I'd like the four principal bowls to be matched without regard for geography. If the coaches want to seed it or whatever, that's OK by me. Then I'd like the final four and then two to play. There is growing sentiment to do something. Now whether the commissioners will land on a four-team or an eight-team sort of depends on which one of them you ask, but I just don't think you can continue to ignore the fans who pay the bill for all of this. I also think the NCAA is the best group to run it. It's the best thing for the students. We do it in every other sport. It's what the kids themselves come to college to play for. All of that, together, is somewhat impacted by all the conference realignment and the changing attitudes in the Big Ten and Pac-12. With Larry [Scott] and Jim Delany and Mike Slive all saying let's find a solution, I think something will happen. I don't know what form exactly it will take.
SI: Do you think the other schools would go for a tournament run by the NCAA?
Adams: You're smart enough to know there's still some sort of pushing and shoving between the conference commissioners and the NCAA on that point. We already have a structure that runs every other championship. I think the NCAA itself is best positioned to manage it. I don't know exactly what President Emmert's position is on the money, but Myles Brand had said before he died that he would be willing to run it for nothing more than the cost of doing it and then the money could be distributed back to the institutions. It's been a fear of some of the conference commissioners that the NCAA would siphon off some of the money.
SI: Why did the climate change so quickly?
Adams: The whole conference realignment deal has impacted this. We have a lot of new commissioners in Division I. I think people are beginning to look at more of a national impact rather than just a regional look. In the spirit of full disclosure, I love the Big Ten. I have two Ohio State degrees that I'm proud of. But the Big Ten and the Pac-10 -- as it was at the time -- those were the two groups that helped shoot down the 2008 proposal, and they have been the ones reluctant to change. You've got [a] completely new, more aggressive relationship in the Pac-12. You've got a pretty different cast of characters in the Big Ten. ... You've had a wholesale turnover of maybe more aggressive, different thinking presidents who maybe are not as prone to just accept the ways of the past.
SI: Florida's Bernie Machen said the presidents would decide this issue. Is he correct?
Adams: I hope he's right about that. I'm not so sure about that.
SI: University presidents have so many other issues to worry about. How much thought do you give to athletics on a regular basis?
Adams: It's probably not on the top 10 list for any of us. It's not the sort of thing that a new president is likely to think is worthy of his or her time. It's one of those things that seems to be led by the people who have had several experiences with the bowls, several experiences with the BCS. Many of them are just coming to the conclusion that there's a better way to do this.
SI: It seems the bowls have lost some support.
Adams: I think the people who have predicted the demise of the bowls are probably overstating the case. There are a few of them that are very much at the margins, but there are a lot of them that still engender a lot of local and community support. ... Two years ago, we were at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. We hadn't had a great year. We lost to Central Florida, which was probably the low point of Mark Richt's time at UGA. But that entire week, the kids, the administration, the coaches, they had a terrific experience. Memphis did everything they could do to make us feel happy and welcome.
What you have seen with these decreases in attendance in the last two three years is partly the power of the BCS. It's partly the power of television. Partly, for sure, it has been the economy. We've probably pushed ticket and travel prices and all of that for the average family about as far as we can. It's another reason why I think the NCAA needs to gird up its pants and do what Mark [Emmert] came in talking about doing. That's invoke some reasonable cost controls, even on those of us who are from the more well-off conferences. The $2,000 thing is now in abeyance. The business on limiting numbers of non-coaching personnel in major sports has been referred to another committee. When we were all in Indianapolis making statements about going forward and doing something, we haven't followed through on them to the extent that I think we need to. Some major symbolic actions like that would help restore public confidence in the process. I don't think we're going to take coaches' salaries back to where they were in 1970, nor do I think we should. There are some battles that the public doesn't fully understand that we're not going to fight. But there are some excesses still in the system that we could legitimately deal with. I think when he gets the votes, Mark will be inclined to do so. But there's a pretty big gap between our comments a year ago and what has not happened in the legislative process in the interim.
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