The NCAA passed what has become known as autonomy legislation on Thursday, opening the door for the top five conferences to make their own rules on items such as stipends, insurance, contact with agents, etc. Much of the details are still to come (in fact, it’s not official until after a 60-day veto period).
What does it mean for WSU?
Athletic director Eric Sexton has said recently (and repeatedly) that Wichita State will do as much as is financially possible to avoid losing ground to the high-profile conferences. Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin has said his schools are committed to keeping pace with their men’s and women’s basketball programs.
What that means won’t be clear until the specifics are adopted.
On Thursday afternoon, senior associate athletics director Becky Endicott hadn’t received formal word from the NCAA or the MVC on the legislation. Volleyball coach Chris Lamb, busy with two-a-days wasn’t aware exactly what happened on Thursday. So if you expected mass panic and surrender at Koch Arena, no such luck.
“We’re waiting,” Endicott said. “Until we get notification from them, I’m not going to jump to any conclusions.”
My guess is a school such as WSU is well-positioned to weather these changes, perhaps more than the rest of the MVC. Trying to stay in the same zip code as Nebraska will be easier for WSU than it will be for Loyola, for example. MVC schools with football also face different decisions and burdens than WSU will.
Sexton’s prime worry is that the high-profile conferences will press their advantage in competitive areas (such as adding scholarships or changing transfer rules). That would be a significant issue, because every athlete gobbled up by the Big 12 or SEC is one less available to other schools. If, as Sexton hopes, the top five limit their changes to perks (stipends, insurance, guaranteed four-year scholarships, etc.), it is more realistic for the rest to keep pace.
WSU may learn that matching the Big 12 with a true-cost-attendance-stipend is critical, but it is not required to match those schools in other areas.
Of course, it’s all a competitive area. In a sport such as track or baseball (where partial scholarships are available), WSU can offer more of a scholarship to an athlete. However, if Oklahoma or Nebraska can offer to give a walk-on meals, it can counter WSU’s offer with something real.
Ultimately, MVC schools will pump money into basketball. They will tap donors harder. Olympic sports may suffer. There will be challenges for WSU and you (the fan) may feel it in your bank account. In 10 years, WSU may have dropped a sport or scaled back its competitive profile in order to help other sports keep pace. It will be easier for WSU, with a large fan-base and no football, than it will for others.
Let’s also recognize that there always were and always will be significant differences between schools such as Michigan, Alabama, Kansas, Missouri and their ilk and Wichita State and its peers.
Some, but not most, of WSU’s success in any sport is related to beating higher-profile schools for recruits. More of its success is related to beating similar schools for the top talent available (see Carl Hall, Toure Murry or Rashard Kelly) and developing talent when others missed it (see Ron Baker, Conor Gillaspie, decathlete Austin Bahner or volleyball’s Sara Lungren). Winning recruiting battles against higher-profile schools happens (see Cleanthony Early, volleyball setter Chelsey Feekin, countless baseball players, track athletes Kord Ferguson and Audacia Moore), but it’s not a daily occurance.
In that way, trying to stand on equal recruiting ground with Mountain West, Big East and Conference USA schools is just as important as trying to keep pace with the ACC.
WSU, and schools such as Gonzaga, Northern Iowa and VCU, will always need to find inventive ways to survive when matched against schools with bigger budgets, populations and TV contracts. Let’s also recognize that there are also intra-conference differences (Ohio State-Northwestern, Texas-Iowa State for example) that need to be factored in. My guess is Mississippi isn’t excited about searching for more money in order to keep up with Florida, any more than Big East, Mountain West or MVC schools are bracing for more expenses.
Some stories that may help you understand what might be coming:
Washington Post: Big 10 commissioner says smaller conferences not precluded from ramping up.
Springfield News-Leader: Missouri State AD Kyle Moats is looking for $200,000.
Omaha World Herald: NCAA changes the game on Creighton.