Tag:Southwestern Conference
Posted on: October 26, 2011 2:26 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 2:58 pm

Q&A with NCAA VP Kevin Lennon

Posted by Bryan Fischer

NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs Kevin Lennon has been with the association for nearly 25 years and oversees a wide-ranging department that includes student-athlete reinstatement, compliance and other issues. He sat down with CBSSports.com to discuss several of the reforms that are currently making their way through the legislative process ahead of this week's meetings.

CBSSports.com: How did you wind up at the NCAA?

"I went to Harvard as an undergrad and played some varsity and club sports there. Then I came to work at the NCAA then I went to the Southwest Conference. I was actually the first guy hired by the Southwest Conference after SMU had their death penalty. That was an interesting time to be down there and see a culture that was very different. Spent a couple of years there and have been back at the NCAA ever since. I've been the vice president for nearly 13 years."

Any interesting stories from your SWC days?

"When Fred Jacoby became commissioner of the SWC, in his first meeting the coaches had him leave the room - the commissioner - so that they could do their draft. They were buying all the same guys so they realized, let's just be more organized. 'You need these two defensive tackles, you take them, we'll take him.' They literally had a draft board. Poor Fred had come from the Mid-American Conference down to that environment.

"I'm reminded that in light of all the challenges we have now - which are significant - there was a period of time where it was just a different era."

What's been the biggest change at the NCAA during your time there?

"I think the whole development of the compliance efforts has been significant. My sense is that every time you have major cases that are processed, it does send some shock waves through the membership and then there's a response. It's a little bit reactive. Particularly among the FBS programs, we've seen more energy and more effort put into rules compliance. I think that's helped change the culture to some extent.

"At the same time, I think you've had that academic reform wave. We have more coaches that are talking about academic success and those types of things. Over the last decade, those are kind of the two things that I've seen that have changed clearly from earlier."

You work with over 1,000 schools in three division, what are the difficulties you see at each level?

"Division III has their challenges. We go through this financial audit program that says you can't offer any athletic aid or factor it in to your packages and sure enough, there's some outliers. That speaks to me just in general about the competitive nature of athletics. Even in a place where you're not offering athletic scholarships, people want to win and they sometime cut some corners.

"Division II, in terms of life in the balance, have really done a nice job of saying you can have a high quality athletics program and still be acclimated as part of the regular student body. In Division I, you see why you fly across the country for a football game. The public's interests, the pressures surrounding the competitions, the influences on the student-athletes themselves, commercial issues, create just an interesting mix from a regulatory perspective. It's just pretty darn complex. We probably spend 98% of our time on it."

The Board of Directors has several major changes they'll look at this week, is there more change this year than ever before?

"Yes. I don't think you can look at the action items that are going in front of the board and not say this is a big deal. There are some big ticket items as I would describe them. I think there was some significant issues brought up under President (Myles) Brand but I look at between now and April as very significant. There are major things with respect to access to championships that will really get people's attention. The two-year college transfer stuff will make sure that whole community is better prepared and have a significant ripple effect.

"I'm excited about the new rules group I'm working with. We have a great opportunity to get the board to just re-write that (manual). We really want to identify what do we care most about at the NCAA. It's kind of hard to tell right now. It's usually thrown together and you don't know what the priority is. To a large extent, we've always said if the membership adopts the rules, they're all of equal importance. How do you say that is more important than that? I think we finally have some courage at the presidential level to say, 'You know what? This is more important, this is a principal of what we do."

Full cost of attendance is being talked about a lot but the $2,000 figure thrown out seems a bit arbitrary.

"Out of the blocks, there is some thought that you can always go up. I think that's something the NCAA does a pretty good job of. We'll use data to figure out if there's a lot of unmet need that tells us we'll need to go to $3,000 or $4,000. I think people will be willing to do that. Keep in mind that most people will get their Pell Grant on top of that and we're going to open up other non-athletic aid that a student can receive that won't count against their total. Then there's the special assistance fund money, we give out $35 million a year. It will be fascinating to take a needy student with the two grand and the Pell Grant and the student assistance and see just how much they got at the end of the year. We're trying to meet the unmet need and I think $2,000 is a reasonable place to start. The Board could say it needs to be $3,000 to start, that will be determined by them."

One of the presidential working groups is looking at cutting scholarships in football and men's basketball, what's the reasoning behind that?

"There's a really interesting idea that's developed out of that rules group in terms of building in incentives to get yourself back to the full allotment. Like the access to championships, where you must have a certain score to be eligible, how about you have a high enough APR you can get yourself back to 13 in men's basketball. The baseline could be lower but you incentivize by academic performance teams having their full allotment of scholarships. I think it's a great idea.

"If we look at the rules, we don't have any incentives that say go above minimums and you receive benefits. I like the idea and it's one that we'll take up in earnest, that's a powerful piece. If you're a poor performing team, you may play with 11. If you're a high academic team, you'll get 13. It's some competitive advantage for a team that does well academically. I think there's a fundamental issue that our membership is walking into that says, you want to be a Division I member? There is a minimum expectation as to what you need to be providing."

Some have suggested that there be a another division for big time FBS schools.

"I think the thought is that the tent is big enough under Division I to allow for this diversity of mission. Having said that, within the regulatory structure, we need to redefine competitive equity. Up to this point, it's been whatever the last member, in terms of resources or commitment - we can't allow others to do things that would hurt them competitively. We are really getting away from that. You'll see, out of this rules group, a redefinition of what fairness means and what opportunity means.

"All that will allow conferences to have more say in how they regulate themselves versus some others. That's something that we're openly examining. Cost of attendance is a perfect example, not everyone will be able to do that. In the past we would have said you can't go to two grand because this school can't do it. Now we'll say if you can do it, do it. We're maturing to some extent and allowing enough within the tent to not
stand in their way of improving the student-athlete experience."

How big is the NCAA manual in a year or two?

"We're marking it up. My thinking right now? I think you blow the thing up. While we may have a copy somewhere in the vault, the approach should be if you had to start with a new day, what would it be. I think you'll see outcome based principles, we may end up having eight of them. You can't recruit using a third-party, you need to deal directly with the young man or woman and their family. That's a principle, you violate it and you'll face significant penalties. You may have some operating bylaws underneath that.

"I'll give you one example. One bylaw we have we've gone from 13 pages to four in the first cut. (The manual) will be significantly reduced."

Has there been a wake up call at the NCAA?

"It does seem like we had a lot of things happen this past year, there's no denying that. Malfeasance among parents, among students, there's been more of a spotlight on administrators. You could call it a perfect storm. There's been new leadership coming in and saying this doesn't feel right. To Mark (Emmert's) credit, he's been pretty aggressive in trying to figure out the systemic causes of why we're here.

"I thought the Presidential Retreat, and I've been here 25 years, was one of the most thoughtful, honest conversations about why we got where we are and what we can do about it."

Posted on: August 11, 2011 12:04 pm
Edited on: August 11, 2011 8:30 pm

Reasons Aggies want to move to the SEC runs deep

Posted by Bryan Fischer

There's no place in the country like Texas A&M.

If you haven't had a chance to go to Midnight Yell or be in the stands at Kyle Field when they sway back and forth when the War Hymn is played, you should quickly add it to your bucket list.

The Aggies, excuse me, the Fightin' Texas Aggies, are a different kind of fan too. Really a different kind of person. Tradition is about more than dunking your ring upon graduation or saying 'Howdy,' it's part of the fabric of A&M fans' everyday lives.

Growing up in Dallas, I went to plenty of A&M, Texas and Oklahoma games. As much as the fans of the other two teams liked their schools, they never loved their team like the Aggies. Through thick and thin they were still the Fighting Farmers.

The demographics and culture in College Station have shifted over the past few years. Fewer kids from the country and more from the cities. Less of a focus on the agricultural and mechanical and more of a focus on the business school. But no matter what, they all believe in the school the same.

Now Texas A&M fans are unsure of the future and they're upset. They're mad at Texas. They're mad at commissioner Dan Beebe. They're mad at the Big 12. Frankly, they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

The uneasy truce that was drawn up last summer after Larry Scott came looking to build his superconference is in shambles. The Longhorn Network is the straw that broke the camel's back but really it was the lack of stability in the Big 12 that is the driving force. Even if the NCAA denied the network of their ability to televise high school games, that wouldn't calm the uneasiness A&M has about Texas being in bed with ESPN and in a prime position to join the ranks of the independent.

The hard reality though, is that the University of Texas is the university of Texas. Texas A&M's entire athletic department budget in 2010 was $66.8 million. Texas' PROFIT from football alone was $68 million last year. The Aggies lost money in 2008 and 2009. The rumors of going to the SEC is not about high school games or money, it's about the gap between the two schools widening even further.

In the state of Texas - and in the eyes of most nationally - the Aggies are, and almost always have been, second class citizens in the state they love so dear. The move to the best conference in college football is their trump card. Their chance to shine and - at least in their minds - become peers and not Texas' little brother.

They better learn that they'll have to take their lumps with a move though. Prior to last season, the Aggies best record in the previous 11 years was 9-4. They were embarrassed by Oklahoma to the tune of 77-0 in 2003. Texas A&M has only won one bowl game since joining the Big 12 and has only one league title to their name.

Now they want tougher competition. By moving East they'll face conference opponents that have won 81 percent of their non-conference games of their games the past five years and, oh yeah, five straight national titles.

One fan tweeted me on Wednesday, "If you do understand than you would know this move is not for athletic success. Its bout the cash and the EQUALITY of the SEC."

First of all, if A&M goes to the SEC, they'll have to pay an exit fee of a good chunk of their television revenue in 2011 AND be phased into a full revenue share in their future league. Remember, this is an athletic department that was struggling to pay the bills (the school's endowment has plenty in the bank however). Second, you would not be equals in the mighty Southeastern Conference. You are the new kid on the block and you're closer to Ole Miss and Arkansas than Alabama and Florida. All conferences are not created equal.

Many will point to the fact that the program can get better recruits by selling the fact that they'll be able to play in the best conference. That will win over some.

"The conference really put them over the top," Van (Texas) linebacker Dalton Santos told Volquest.com as to why he picked Tennessee over Texas A&M. "Being able to do things in the SEC will show I can play anywhere."

What some fail to keep in mind however, is that the Longhorns will almost always have the pick of the litter in-state. Sure you can win over one or two elite players. Talent development is always been a strength in College Station and better players certainly never hurt but it's not going to shift the balance of power in the recruiting game as much as many think (or hope).

There is also the notion that grabbing Texas A&M is appealing to the SEC because it opens Texas to the league. That is obscuring the obvious: it's already open. Remember Alabama won a national championship with a quarterback from the Dallas area. When they failed to land the top in-state signal-caller Jameis Winston, they picked up a commitment from a Dallas area quarterback less than 48 hours later. If a head coach of an SEC school wants a player in Texas, they typically don't have many doors closed on them, if any.

It remains to be seen how it all will work but at the moment but it's clear there is mutual interest in making the move, should there be a shift in the college landscape. Beebe said he was taking the threat of the school leaving very seriously and Texas governor Rick Perry, an Aggie alum, confirmed to the Dallas Morning News that 'conversations are being had' on making the move.

“I’ll put it this way, I’m taking it very seriously," Beebe told The Austin-American Statesman. "I’ve been talking to a number of people. Obviously, there are a significant number of Aggie supporters who are interested in going in that (SEC) direction."

Sources told the Statesman and the Morning News that the Big 12 would continue to operate as a nine-team league if Texas A&M left. The school's offer to join the SEC has not been formally made however. As Mike Slive said at SEC Media Days a few weeks ago, he could expand the league to 16 teams "in 15 minutes." but it remains to be seen if he's willing to move on expansion at the moment. The league will add a member only if and when Slive and the SEC presidents want, the timetable is not up to the Aggies.

A source at Texas A&M said the school won't tap the breaks on the rumors until all options have been explored. The school is still mulling creating or partnering on their own network and it just so happens that the head of Fox Sports Southwest is an Aggie alum and booster. Yet many in the administration feel the stability the SEC offers is the biggest reason why the school is ultimately "forced" east.

Let's face it, it looks more likely to happen than not at this point. Culture-wise, they probably fit in well when you consider their other programs, such as baseball, and passionate fan base for all things Aggie.

When I called my father last night, an A&M alum himself, he was mostly upset over the Longhorn Network's unfair advantage. My mother, having lived through the Southwest Conference until the end, thought the whole move was a crazy reaction however.

"They're cutting off their nose to spite their face," she said.

Just like any motherly advice, she was right.

A&M thinks they've got a trump card for their rival. They better be careful what they're wishing for or the Aggies might be the ones being trumped.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com