KANSAS CITY, Mo. — NCAA president Mark Emmert believes another round of conference realignment could be sparked by schools trying to position themselves to play in a proposed four-team college football playoff.
Emmert spoke on a variety of issues during a stop at the Big 12’s annual meeting Thursday, including the growing gulf between “haves” and “have nots,” the loopholes that exist for student-athletes to transfer, and the concussion epidemic in all level of sports.
Still, it was college football’s postseason that dominated discussions.
While a four-team playoff is being worked on by college football officials, how the teams are picked and how a new format affects the rest of the postseason is still to be determined.
“If there’s going to be significant movement by FBS institutions over the course of the summer,” Emmert said, “it will be driven by that.”
Big 12 administrators said this week that they support a four-team playoff model in which participants are chosen by a selection committee, rather than a complicated formula such as the BCS standings, which are based on computer rankings and polls.
The Big 12 has also said it favors playoff semifinals occurring outside of the current bowl structure, even though some conferences prefer to keep intact some of its historic relationships between bowls and leagues.
The Big 12 and SEC recently announced a partnership for their own bowl game, tentatively called the Champions Bowl, which will pit their champions against each other — or the next-best team from each league if the champions are playing in the proposed playoff.
“There’s a laundry list of issues,” Emmert said of the playoff structure. “Is it going to be part of the bowls? Isn’t it? How do you handle the allocation of money? How do you pick four teams? Do you play on campuses or not?”
Emmert also cautioned that a playoff could deepen an existing gulf between high-resource schools and those with limited financial means, pointing out Michigan has been a football power almost since the game was invented, “and I would imagine it would remain so.”
“When you go back and look at history, the financial differences have always been there, but some universities have huge competitive advantages through history and geography and decisions they’ve made over decades that are in some ways insurmountable,” Emmert said. “It just reinforces some of those inherent advantages that some universities have had for a century.”
In other news, Emmert said there has been no consensus on an overhaul of transfer rules.
Some administrators want to close loopholes that allow student-athletes to transfer without sitting out a year provided they have graduated from their previous institution, along with ending a waiver system for athletes to participate immediately for certain hardships.
“Some people think transfers are too restrictive, others think it’s too easy, and some think it’s just right,” Emmert said. “There’s a lot of things going on.”
Emmert said it’s a balancing act between supporting schools that have provided significant financial commitments to a student-athlete with the rights of the athlete, especially when regular students are able to transfer at will and coaches can leave freely for other jobs.
Emmert said that about 40 percent of men’s basketball players are not a their original school at the end of their sophomore year, and the instances of players transferring between four-year institutions is 10 or 11 percent — still a number that represents hundreds of players.
“You don’t want a coach to do his recruiting by sitting on his couch and watching TV and saying, ‘Oh, that kid looks unhappy sitting on the bench. I’m going to recruit him,'” Emmert said.
The president also said the NCAA continues to emphasize the welfare of student-athletes, especially given recent news about the health of players once their careers are over.
The epidemic of concussions in the NFL and even college football has garnered most of the attention, but Emmert also hears from former student-athletes who have bad knees or other lasting injuries from their playing days in a variety of sports.
“Obviously, our responsibility is to do everything we can with current understanding of health and welfare to maximize the safety of student-athletes,” he said. “I don’t know 20 years ago what the level of science was in understanding injuries, and I sure to don’t know what it was 40 years ago. But what we can do is say, ‘Look, what’s our best understanding of injuries today, and what can we do to maximize the welfare of our student-athletes?’
“It was a common occurrence to have eight, 10, 12 kids a year die in the early 1900s playing college football,” Emmert said. “The NCAA was formed in part to say, ‘We can’t have that.’ And today if we had anything like that happen, we’d go appropriately berserk.”