INDIANAPOLIS -- In a city that bills itself as the amateur athletics capital of the world, there was surprisingly little talk about, well, the actual athletics.
Two days after the national championship game, nobody brought up the greatness of Alabama's defense or the ineptitude of LSU's offense. There was a notable lack of discussion about Illinois upsetting Ohio State in basketball or any heated debate about if this really is Northwestern's year in the Indianapolis Convention Center.
No, the talk at the annual NCAA convention, which started Tuesday and runs through Saturday, is of multi-year scholarships, cost of living stipends, student-athletes and rules compliance. After a year that ranks among the organization's worst in its 102 year history, it is a time to focus on the issues at hand.
Yet, in hallways and over lunch, a fight is brewing among member schools and leadership hell-bent on reform.
"This meeting and the board [of directors] meetings are the most substantive since I've been involved in the NCAA," Texas Tech president Guy Bailey said. "I don't know if sea change is the right word but it is a big change. There's serious concern about preserving the collegiate model and maintaining student welfare."
The ire over two proposals, stemming from NCAA President Mark Emmert's reform package that came out of meetings in August, has drawn the most attention. The presidents want to give conferences the option of giving out scholarships beyond one year renewals and up to $2,000 to cover the cost of attendance.
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The schools pumped the brakes by overriding it.
To clarify, some schools didn't want the new legislation. Wake Forest and Rutgers were the only Division I schools from the BCS automatic qualifying conferences to ask for an override of what is formally known as proposals 2011-96 and 2011-97. Boise State was also a notable exception with other schools citing Title IX and monetary concerns in addition to the fact that things just went too fast for an organization that simply moves like a snail.
"When I was in college I was on an ROTC scholarship so I got all of my books and fees paid and $100 a month back in 1973 to take of my incidental costs," said Arizona State president Michael Crow, a strong proponent of both proposals. "Certainly we can find a way to take care of athlete's incidental costs as a part of their scholarship. We support it. We don't view it as pay; we view it as cost of attendance."
Great concept on the surface but the execution was lacking. The reason?
Money. Alabama can afford it. Wyoming might not. The have-nots are taking issue while Crow, with a rich new media deal signed last year, sits in the group of haves wondering what's the hold up.
What those in Indianapolis have failed to realize is that the solution to some of the problems the have's and have-not's are facing this week has been there all along. Only one person recognized the elephant in the room.
"Well, I'm a graduate of the University of Alabama so I thought the BCS worked out great this year," Bailey said. "Of course, it probably depends on your alliance."
The NCAA has none with the BCS, the multi-million dollar gift that keeps on giving to certain athletic departments and not others. The excess of the bowl system -- right down to Fiesta Bowl president John Junker's Strip Club bill -- has been well chronicled over the past few years and, for the first time it seems, powerful people are starting to realize that something needs to be done to align major college football with the NCAA.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, speaking at a keynote speech Wednesday, slammed the BCS by saying it contributes "zero" to student-athlete academic success.
"The BCS should set aside a meaningful share of bowl revenues to an academic enhancement fund that supports the education of the student-athletes," he said. "The NCAA has no control over the bowl revenues so this will be a decision that each conference would have to make."
On Tuesday, the commissioners from the 11 FBS conferences met in New Orleans to discuss the system for crowning the national champion starting in 2014. The first of many meetings, the only news that came out of the hotel room was that eventually, there would be some change.
"The BCS is designed to give some indication of a champion," said Bailey. "A Plus-One would probably work out pretty well. It would be a nice step and provide a clearer resolution to some issues without damaging the regular season. People are concerned with damaging the regular season and bowl structure."
While the presidents express concern for the status quo in college football, they've done anything but with athletics as a whole. It's why there are upset administrators from schools across the country speaking out about proposals most on the outside view as a positive. The solution to everybody's problem however, is staring them in the face if they'd take the time to look.
A NCAA-run playoff.
Instead of the BCS giving an "indication" of a national champion, how about one settled on the field? And because the NCAA distributes roughly 95 percent of revenues back to schools, guess what can fund everything the presidents have proposed and more?
"Yes," Crow said bluntly if an NCAA-run playoff is on the horizon. "You may see a proposal. I can't speak for the other Pac-12 presidents, but it will come from the conference. What we're looking for is to determine the national champion without taxing the student athletes."
Trading crystal footballs for laminated wood plaques could pump as much as a billion dollars a year into the organization's coffers to pay for everything from recommended books to grocery money to student-athlete cell phone bills. It wouldn't just be for Baylor's kicker or a Stanford running back either, as non-revenue producing sports could experience the same benefits. Title IX concerns would be tossed out just as John Brantley throws the ball away.
When asked about running an FBS playoff, Emmert has always mentioned that the NCAA does a fine job running things in the 89 other championships they give out and he would say, 'How high,' if asked to jump by the presidents. In contrast to the bowl system -- which has seen empty seats aplenty and ratings drop off significantly over the past few years -- this year's FCS playoffs set a new record for fan attendance. A shortened season is already on the table that is flexible enough to provide time for playoffs. The pieces are essentially in place.
It makes so much sense in the current environment that it's not just an idea from Pollyanna.
"My own belief is that the trophy for football should look like the trophy for every other NCAA sport," Crow said. "A wooden rectangle with a crummy piece of gold medal attached to it that says you won the national championship in NCAA football.
"We're looking for a tournament-style event where if you win a conference championship, it means something. The best conference champions could then go on to determine the national champions."
Crow sees a model that involves taking the eight, highest ranked conference champions. If Sun Belt champion Arkansas State doesn't make the cut - they didn't crack the top 25 in the final polls - so be it. If the Rose Bowl loses the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, they'll get the second place teams.
Who knows, he may have just provided rival Arizona a chance to finally make it to Pasadena.
"I think there's a way to pull that off without playing too many games," Crow added. "We could also get the bowl games back to a traditional model of how they were, regional intersection games like the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 and Big Ten playing each other. Then let the best conference champions play each other."
The confluence of a playoff, the BCS and the NCAA has hurdles to clear but recent events have given the indication that bold leadership and thinking outside the box make it possible. Larry Scott has injected new life into the Pac-12 and isn't done. The presidential working groups are rewriting the manual and looking at a new enforcement model. The SEC added two schools in order grab a bigger slice of the television pie and start their own network. San Diego State will play in the Big East.
Change is in the air in college athletics and it is about time it comes around to the system everybody has griped about since its inception.
"I'm convinced now is the time for Division I leaders and the NCAA to step forward and reassert the interest of student athletes and advance the educational mission of the institutions," Duncan said. "In doing that, you can regain the public's trust and the public's respect. It's time to raise your game."
And raze the BCS.