Q&A with Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman is a member of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee. He previously served as the committee's chairman. He also previously served on the NCAA's Board of Directors.
SI: You've been the only high-profile president in the past few months to come out in favor of the current system. Why have you stood firm while others have gone another way?
Perlman: I don't know if everyone else is going a different way. I don't see a lot of presidents out there taking strong positions at this point. I certainly haven't seen the presidents of the Big Ten out taking positions. There may be some tweaks about the present system that I'd be supportive of. I know there's great concern among the non-automatic qualifying conferences about this automatic qualifying/non-automatic qualifying and the branding issues and whether that is driving conference expansion that doesn't comport with common sense. If that's true, I do think that could be addressed without radically changing the postseason. I've testified. I've given all the arguments why I don't want to see a playoff even if it's a plus-one. More recently, I've just been asking the question, "What benefit does it have?" I can't find one. This notion that now we'll have an undisputed national champion is a pipe dream. We're not going to have an undisputed national champion. We'll have an undisputed winner of a playoff. That's all you've got. You don't necessarily have the best team. I don't know if LSU or Alabama is the best team or what Stanford would have done if they had played either one of them. Or Oklahoma State. Or Oregon. If you played a round robin of two games each, how would it come out? Football is not the kind of game in which you can create a circumstance in which everyone will stand up and salute and say, "Yep, that's the national champion."
SI: I don't know if you can do that in any sport.
Perlman: I don't, either, but I think it's pretty clear in football. So what do we gain? We gain one more game. I can appreciate the interest in that, because I don't like to see the college football season come to an end, either. But you look at that against the potential risk to student-athletes, the disruption of the bowl season, the inconvenience of fans, the academic part of the enterprise, and I just don't see what the argument is other than the fans want it.
SI: Would semifinals at home sites take away that inconvenience to fans, or would they add other problems?
Perlman: Nebraska probably has as passionate a fan base as any institution, and it's hard to see that they would want to go one week to a semifinal game with two weeks' notice and with one week notice go off to a finals game. I don't think that's going to happen. Moving it to a home field would at least assure that the home crowd would be there and that there would be some level of excitement. The disadvantage would be that the bowls would become second-class citizen.
SI: How do you protect the bowls with public opinion going in this direction?
Perlman: The question is whether public opinion will drive the answer once you look seriously at what the consequences are. Certainly you could do a plus-one, three-game playoff within the bowl structure, and that would preserve -- to some extent -- at least the three bowls that got to participate.
SI: Florida's Bernie Machen said this would be decided by the presidents. At what point are your voices heard in this process?
Perlman: We've tended, both on the oversight committee and within the conferences, I think we've tended to let the commissioners work hard on the details and work hard on the options. We certainly value their advice as they bring it forward to us. But the Big Ten presidents have not had any significant discussion about what our ultimate views are of a playoff. To my knowledge, I don't think the Pac-12 presidents have had a serious discussion about it. There are other groups that would weigh in on any particular proposal. Faculty athletic representatives, at least from my standpoint, would have something serious to say, because they're the ones that are safeguarding the academic enterprise.
SI: What is the ideal calendar for the football postseason?
Perlman: Left to my own devices in a perfect world where I didn't have to pay attention to anything else, it would be great to have everything over on Jan. 1. That's clean. Student-athletes would have a chance to go home and build their reserves for the second semester and come back and concentrate on academics. What we said in the committee that I chaired is that there should be a three-week window in which all bowls have to be played. The three weeks, in theory, would be the weekend after most institutions complete final exams to the week before classes started, so you could really confine the bowls to a single academic term. It's hard to do that because of the calendar shifts and all that. It's hard, realistically, to end the football season on a Saturday or Sunday in January because at that point in time, you've got the professional playoffs and you need the television windows. We recommended they take those three weeks as the concept and add a Monday if you need it to play a national championship game. It depends again on how the calendar works, but Jan. 8 or Jan. 9 would be the last time in the next 10 years that the game would occur. That would be before the second semester begins for most institutions on a semester system. It would create a problem for some schools on the quarter system.
SI: Where did you fall on the concept of multiyear athletic scholarships?
Perlman: We were supportive. I think it's not without some questions about how it would be administered. There are some details that I think need to be worked out. It is optional. You don't have to do it. Competition may drive everybody to do it. I don't know. I think we're a little uneasy. There are some questions about athletic performance in some way or another could be taken into account as a reason to withdraw a scholarship. The lingering concern I have is if you have a student-athlete on a four-year scholarship and you can't withdraw the scholarship because of athletic reasons and they're going to count against your scholarship limits, there's certainly an incentive for coaches to not treat those student-athletes very well and get them to leave on their own. That worries me a little. But on balance, I'm a deregulator. I think the NCAA has too many regulations. If a school wants to give four-years scholarships, why not?
SI: Where did you fall on the issue of cost-of-attendance stipends?
Perlman: I think we should go farther than $2,000. I think the NCAA ought to allow us to give up to the cost of attendance, whatever it is. It depends on where you live, and how high-cost your institution is. For me, the line is we don't pay student-athletes to participate. We don't give them a wage. They're not employees. This is college. If they want to get a wage for doing it, they should go to the pros. But the cost of attendance, which is calculated by the institution for every student, creates that line.
SI: Washington president Michael Young mentioned that his school provides academic scholars with full-cost-of-attendance scholarships. Does Nebraska also do that?
Perlman: We have some scholarships that go that high. And certainly for low-income students, it is the cost of attendance that you start with when you calculate how much to give those students to survive and be successful.
SI: Do you worry that there may need to be further division of the FBS because of the financial disparity?
Perlman: I don't think that the NCAA can regulate in a way that would equalize different-resourced institutions. Nebraska is probably one of the better resourced institutions. You can tell me that I can't give them bagels with cream cheese and I can't give them more scholarships and I can't do this and I can't do that, and I follow those rules. But then what I do to recruit competitively is I spend the money on other stuff. So I build facilities where there is no limit on what I can do, and I make those facilities far beyond what normal students live in because there's no limit on that. There's a standard understanding about regulatory environments that if you regulate something, people will move to the part of their activity that isn't regulated. That's what's happening. I think there is nothing wrong with a less resourced institution saying "We can be smarter. We can be more clever. We can have a tactic, a strategy in which we don't have to have a $75 million athletic budget to be competitive." I think they ought to be allowed to do that. But I don't think they ought to be allowed to say, "We only have a $20 million athletic budget, so everybody only should be able to spend $20 million."
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