For those of you keeping track of the ever changing landscape of college athletics, and that’s just about every college sports fans, there were a couple of developments yesterday that will have a major impact on the future.

ACC commissioner John Swafford yesterday announced that, while his league is falling in line with the Southeast Conference and requiring that all member teams play at least one non conference game against a team from another of the “Power 5” leagues, the in-conference schedule will not be expanding to nine games. There is an interesting wrinkle to the developments in the ACC that the SEC doesn’t have to deal with. As part of it’s membership in the ACC, in all sports but football, the Notre Dame football team is committed to five games a year against ACC teams. Swofford says a game against Notre Dame will count as a game against a “Power 5” team, which could be an indication that Notre Dame will be playing a full conference schedule in the future, which could then become the ninth game for league teams.

As another step is taken toward the expected final footprint for the “Power 5” in the transition from the BCS to the college football playoff, one can only wonder how the Big Ten views the latest controversies at Rutgers, including the student forced withdrawal of Condoleesa Rice as their commencement speaker, while, at the metro market presence they passed on to incorporate Rutgers, the commencement address was delivered by an alumni astronaut from the international space station.

The other issue for institutions scrambling for invitations from the “Power 5” is the cost of membership, and there was another development yesterday that is likely to continue the escalation of that price.

In ruling on an appeal by the NCAA of her own earlier decision in the case of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon versus the NCAA, U.S. district judge Claudia Wilken stated that only division I football and men’s basketball are relevant in the case. “The adminstrators understanding of Title IX has no bearing on whether division I football and men’s basketball recruits are consumers in the same market as other college bound students”, Judge Wilken wrote in her brief.

Translation: As consumers in one market they should be eligible for separate inducements and compensations based on their marketability, which is at the heart of O’Bannon’s lawsuit. He contested the NCAA’s use of athletes names, images and likenesses in promotions, advertisements and product sales. The court ruling bars Title IX and support of non revenue sports, no matter how big a role they play in the finances of an institution’s athletic department, from being entered in evidence in the O’Bannon case, if it does go to trial as scheduled on June 9th. They have no legal bearing and cannot even be brought up. Title IX funding and funding for non revenue sports cannot be weighed against compensation for athletes in the revenue sports.

Add this to the as yet unknown ramifications of potential unionization of college athletes and by the end of the summer, and the latest round of expansion, we may not only need a scorecard to tell us who’s in what league, we may need a separate scorecard to tell us which institutions can even afford to be there. That second scorecard is likely to eliminate the middle class in college sports.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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