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Big Conferences Get More Autonomy; College Sports Become More Darwinian

University of Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson.
TribLive with Steve Patterson taken by thetexastribune via flickr
University of Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson.

University of Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson.
Credit TribLive with Steve Patterson taken by thetexastribune via flickr
University of Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson.

Even if Marie Antoinette never actually said “Let them eat cake," the attitude of obliviousness towards the needs of the less fortunate certainly exists.

Think not? Well, you haven’t been paying attention to college athletics recently.

The haves of college sports have received permission to further separate themselves from the have-nots, thanks to a decision by the NCAA’s Board of Directors earlier this month. The board gave schools from the five highest profile conferences autonomy to set their own rules on certain subjects, rather than live by rules for the entire 351-member body. Those 65 schools from the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and Southeastern conferences, as well as Notre Dame, will be allowed to govern themselves on major issues.

Barring a surprise, schools from the Power Five are expected to enact legislation that would permit them to give football and men’s basketball players stipends beyond a scholarship. Those schools can afford to pay the stipends. They will rake in millions from television contracts as well as money from their new four-team football playoff.

Those financial arrangements exclude schools that are not a part of the Power Five and further widen the chasm between them and the other colleges and universities in the NCAA.

You might think that the desire to annihilate an opposing school might end when an athletic competition is over. You would be wrong. Indeed,Texas athletic director Steve Pattersonseemed to sum up the attitude among the Power Five. He asked, “Why should we share it if they’re not generating it?"

Patterson’s remarks came during a panel of Big 12 members in New York earlier this month. While many cringed at his bluntness, few of his peers disagreed. The age of the robber barons isn’t just being taught in classrooms at big universities. It’s being lived out in athletic departments on those campuses.

Maryland’s jump to the Big Ten and the possible cash grab of $40 million annually at the expense of 60 years membership in the ACC is just the most obvious example of naked greed. It’s hardly the only one and it won’t be the last. With new television contracts on the horizon, conference moves like Maryland’s will almost certainly continue as more schools pursue the dough.

You can also expect lawsuits on behalf of female athletes seeking to receive the same benefits and compensation afforded to young male athletes.

Amid the gloom of gluttony comes a ray of hope from, of all places, Maryland.

Beginning in November, Maryland will guarantee that all scholarship athletes, regardless of the sport, will receive grants for multiple years, rather than the one-year deals that are renewed at the school’s pleasure. In addition, Maryland further promises to continue the scholarship through graduation, even if the athlete’s eligibility runs out or if the athlete is hurt and cannot play anymore.

It’s a glimmer of humanity in a business that is increasingly given to survival of the fittest.

You can reach us via e-mail with your questions and comments at sportsatlarge [at] wypr [dot] org. And follow me on Twitter: @sportsatlarge.

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.