All NACDA Members
College Athletics in the Year 2000/Perspective #3
(Monday, June 19 - 9:30 a.m.)
We're going to hear next from Patty Viverito. Patty is a graduate of Northern Illinois University with a masters from the University of Massachusetts. She's been the Gateway Conference commissioner for 11 years, four years as senior associate commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference. She's had a number of assignments with the NCAA, served on the Council and is now a member of the Executive Committee as the chair of the Committee on Women's Athletics. Patty is a member of the Basketball Officiating Committee and is an expert on swooshes. Patty Viverito.
Thank you again for the invitation to participate in the NACDA Convention, especially with such a prestigious panel. Also, thank you for the flattering introduction, Joe. My eight-year-old son, Gregory, would have particularly enjoyed it since he's been following my career quite closely these days. Some of you may be aware that I was a finalist for the Big 12 commissioner's job, pretty heavy company. My son, Gregory, was asked by a family friend after the interview, just how things went. He said, "Well, she didn't get the job, but that's okay, because she really didn't want to move anyway." He then followed up by saying, "But, had she gotten the job, she would have making a lot of money, one million dollars a week." Then, I guess he thought that was a little mercenary and he said, "however, my mom's still really important. She just doesn't make a lot of money." I think that is a good job description for most of the audience.
Before I begin to share with you my perspective of college athletics in the year 2000, it might be helpful if you know a little about my background since it's somewhat different than most. I did not have the opportunity to participate in either high school or college sports. My inspiration to work in athletics came after I got out of college and took up tennis and skiing. Title IX was also receiving a lot of attention at that time. I decided to get a sports management degree to go along with my marketing degree and to dedicate myself to providing athletic opportunities for collegiate women. Fifteen years later, I'm commissioner of, not one, but two football leagues and I have two sons. Go figure.
What started as my devotion for insuring positive sports experiences for women has not diminished, but my passion now embraces both genders. Or, as some Title IX advocates would contend, all three genders -- men, women and football. My perspective causes me to see most situations in shades of gray rather than in black and white. I sometimes overlook that my perspective is different than the media's or the general public's. I've had the advantage of a bird's eye view, as have you. I've had the privilege to witness, firsthand, the individual achievements, the obstacles conquered, the perseverance to overcome loss to compete another day. I've witnessed the learning and growth, the development, the maturation of our student-athletes as they move through their college careers. I've seen how most, not all, of the vast majority are better people for having participated.
Even my children, at a very young age, have sensed the importance of sports and I have one more story to tell about my son, Gregory. When he was three years old, he was in the room watching his favorite cartoon on television. He started yelling, "Mom, Mom, come quick." He told me that he was watching his favorite cartoon show and these people were on talking and talking. He was truly upset by this. I came to realize that his favorite show had been interrupted by a press conference to announce the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa. Being a responsible parent, I tried to explain to Gregory that something very important was going to happen in a far away place. He looked at me and said, "Oh, a basketball game."
I certainly don't claim to be a visionary, but I hope that my experience with three conferences, the NCAA Council, the NCAA Executive Committee will, at least, lend some credibility to my observations and predictions. So, what will college sports look like in the year 2000? I say, without hesitation, a lot like they look today.
It would probably be more fun to pretend I'm Jules Vern and come up with some futuristic vision of what's going to happen over the next five years. I could suggest that Division I-A programs will secede from the NCAA and become minor league teams to the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball. I could probably predict that the bowl system will disintegrate and be replaced by a major playoff system with proceeds exceeding the CBS basketball contract to be shared amongst 60 programs. I'll let you do the math. I could predict that players will unionize, receive lucrative contracts and be drafted by major programs. I could even predict that we will see the first corporate ownership of an athletics program with selling athletics programs shares on the open market just around the corner. All of this may, in fact, come to pass, but not by the year 2000 or the near beyond. There's one simple reason -- the CBS billion dollar contract. With the CBS contract in place, the pie just got a lot bigger and the revenue stream is guaranteed through the year 2002. Consequently, the pressure for radical change has dissipated. Also, keep in mind that we, in college sports, are a very conservative lot. Radical change will happen only under radical circumstances.
But, if not radical change, then what? The remainder of my remarks will focus on three areas of college athletics that I see changing over the next several years. The changes, I believe, will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary and the areas I care to address are NCAA restructuring, student-athlete benefits and the role of women in athletics.
Regarding NCAA restructuring, here's my prediction. The current proposal will pass and, ironically, given the genesis of the plan, it will receive the least support in Division I, but will pass by virtue of landslide approval in Divisions II and III. Why will it pass? There are two major reasons. One, I believe the presidents will vote for it because it puts them clearly in charge of the NCAA. Secondly, I believe Divisions II and III will vote yes because their proposals do not represent radical departures from the current setup. Plus, these divisions have been guaranteed a percentage of revenue to meet their needs.
Division I, however, is still a bit wary especially at I-AA and I-AAA. There are a number of good reasons for this. First of all, the Division I plan lacks detail. We're asked to jump without knowing where we're going to land. Secondly, the one-institution, one-vote is not an easy concept to abandon. Representative government relies on a level of trust and trust is something that is in rather short supply in college sports. The term representative may be a stretch since appointed voters appear to represent dollars rather than people. Imagine a government where the number of votes you cast is determined by how much money you're worth. It may be more honest to call the restructure plan at Division I, the Golden Rule. You know, those that have the gold make the rules. Does the override provision represent a reasonable opportunity to challenge Management Council decisions? Also, how do specific constituencies get plugged into this new structure? The roles of athletic directors, senior women administrators and faculty reps have not yet been defined.
Let's assume, if we will, that with or without any of these issues being addressed, restructuring passes. Will it change the way we function dramatically? Probably not as dramatically as we might think. Aside from the new Convention format, it will be business as usual at first. Change will continue to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but over time, perhaps by the year 2000, the Division I membership, at least, will begin to feel the effects of disenfranchisement. Administrators and coaches will no longer be invested directly in the legislative process. And, therefore, won't have the same sense of ownership in the organization that we enjoy today. The new structure will give us dictates from on high in place of full participation that we have now. Without the sense of ownership that comes with the democratic process, we just may erode the grass roots support for living within the rules. Look at history, dictatorships are rarely popular.
I'd now like to focus on student-athletes. With the billion dollar CBS contract comes increase pressure to pay student-athletes. Although the media will continue to clamor for play-for-pay and there will be growing interest among students, as well as those few programs who can afford it, I don't believe we will depart from the current grant-in-aid model. This does not, however, mean that student-athletes' needs will be forgotten. Far from it. I believe that the NCAA membership will find a number of ways to get more money to student-athletes, but will stop short of paying them directly for participation. There is, in fact, an NCAA Executive Committee sub-committee, which is chaired by Gene Smith, and of which I'm proud to be a member, that is currently searching for additional ways to put new television contract dollars at work benefitting student-athletes.
I'd like to share a few of those ideas that are being kicked around at this time, some of which, I think have great merit. First of all, to permit student-athletes to receive five years of athletic aid over any period of time, thus, eliminating the six-year limit. Secondly, enhancing, expanding the current NCAA Degree Completion Program. Third, providing conference grants to fund student-athlete advisory committee meetings, again, at the conference level.
These next three, I think, are extremely significant. One, permit medical insurance premiums to be paid out of the NCAA Special Assistance Fund, formerly known as the Needy Student-Athlete Fund. Also, to establish a supplementary student assistance fund to meet catastrophic needs so that institutions would no longer have to treat the current funds they get as some rainy day funds. They could use those monies to better meet the every day needs of their student-athletes and then appeals to a different fund if something catastrophic truly does happen.
Lastly, expand the permissible uses of the Special Assistance Fund to include money for laundry, toiletries, long distance phone calls, public transportation and other personal expenses. There would be a cap on the amount of money that could be received for these purposes and there would have to be demonstrated need to be eligible to receive it.
The core principle driving any change would be the intention to improve the quality of life of student-athletes generally, not to financially reward a select few. The Committee is in place now and is working toward that goal and we would welcome any additional comments that you might have.
The last portion of my remarks will be devoted to women's issues. I must confess that I was in a dilemma when preparing my remarks. As the only female panelist, it seemed fair to assume that I would be expected to focus on issues from a woman's perspective. As chair of the Committee on Women's Athletics, I'm more than happy to oblige. On the other hand, limiting my remarks to only women's issues, implies that women are not invested in all aspects of college athletics, and of course, we are. It seemed a bit of a double bind, but women throughout history have been faced with dolmans.
Take, for example, the puritan woman accused of witchcraft and thrown into a pond. If she didn't drown, she was denounced as a witch and tortured. Then, if she admitted if she was a witch, she was killed. If she didn't, she was burned at the stake as a silent co-conspirator with the devil. Over the years, I've been told to jump in a lake on a number of occasions, but I've never been threatened to be thrown in a pond. See the progress we're making. On a serious note, real progress has been made. I wanted to quote from the latest longitudinal study update entitled, "Women In Intercollegiate Sports", which is done each year. This year, the authors' comments as a prelude to their report say, "Over the years of this longitudinal study, we have seldom had much good news to report. However, this year's summary brings with it good news on several fronts. Participation rates are up, the percentage of females serving as head coaches of women's teams is up, the number of programs administered by women is up and the number of schools including a women's voice somewhere within their athletic department's structure, is up." I believe that the progress will continue and continue at a rapid pace. By the year 2000, I believe women will be more integrated into the decision making processes in college sports. The number of women ADs and commissioners will continue to grow and more and more women will be recognized as valued members of athletic administration at all levels. As women's roles become more prominent, they will also be less isolated and more informed. This needs to happen for women to reach their potential as productive team players.
Some of this is in place now. A good example is the involvement of women in my own Missouri Valley Conference. Constitutionally, the senior women administrators and athletic directors in the MVC have equal vote. The senior women administrators participate actively in all conference meetings. There are no separate women's agenda, there are no separate advisory councils, there are no separate committees. To put distinctly, there is no tokenism. The women are included as equal partners in all discussions and their opinions are valued. No meeting has ever degenerated into a gender battlefield, as some predicted. The men do not feel threatened by the women's presence and the league benefits from the experience of it's men and it's women. It's a great concept and I recommend it.
As for gender equity, this morning you heard from a panelist with far more legal knowledge than I and the panelist to follow will certainly speak more eloquently than I on the moral responsibilities we have to diversity. But, I would like to take just a moment to speak to these issues as a pragmatist. If we approach gender equity from the basic premise that sports participation is good for all, then we should devote our energies to providing opportunities, as many as possible, within our means and in an equitable manor for both men and women. One of the most important things is to stay out of court. Every dollar spent on litigation, to me, represents one less dollar that should be spent on student-athletes.
My advice to accomplish this is simple. I'm not offering any legal advice. It's critical that we, first, create an atmosphere on our campuses where women belong and are treated with respect. People want progress, not the world in a day, just continued and steady progress toward the level of support that the men's programs have traditionally enjoyed.
Regarding women's sports marketing, I predict the biggest change in college sports in the year 2000, will be the marketability of women's sports. You don't have to look far to see examples of its potential and, take the tournament of women's basketball as an example. The very first tournament, total attendance, all rounds, was 56,000. The last two years, attendance for the women's NCAA Basketball Tournament has exceeded a quarter million. Media credentials at the Final Four, that very first tournament, was a total of 28. This year, over 300. Every major media market was represented and 1995 represented the fifth consecutive women's Final Four sellout. During the recent television negotiations, ESPN and CBS negotiated to get the women's tournament. Lastly, when bids were taken for Final Four sites for 1999 and 2000 Tournaments, 18 serious bids were received this year.
To put this in perspective, you need to realize that when I was on the Basketball Committee not too long ago, we went to Tacoma two consecutive years, in 1988 and 1989. Not because we thought Tacoma would necessarily be a great place to go to two years in a row, but because we had no other site even bid on the event so, we've come a long way.
If you'd like an example of market potential that women's sports have that falls a little closer to home, I can tell you that the Missouri Valley Conference Women's Tournament, which was hosted by Southwest Missouri State this past year, grossed over $200,000. I say that very proudly and also note that we were not even able to boast this year a team in the top 25. So, we're talking about good, solid women's basketball, not necessarily the elite, but certainly, great potential for revenue production.
The future is bright. I'm ever the pragmatist. If you don't want to support women's sports because you think it's the right thing to do, then do it because failing to do so, is walking away from money on the table. Come the year 2000, I predict they'll be plenty of it. Thank you.