Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller doesn’t like five-day conference road trips. You might not like Wednesday night basketball games, or Thursday night football games.
And UA athletes may not like the level of their time commitments, or their finances.
UA president Ann Weaver Hart has her concerns about all of it. That’s why she and her fellow Pac-12 presidents sent a letter to their major-conference peers outlining proposed changes to the NCAA model in the event that bigger conferences are granted autonomy in August to implement them.
“The position that we took is that the time to dilly-dally is over,” Hart said on Thursday. “Just the change in television coverage in college athletics has had a tremendous impact.”
Rich media rights deals, such as the Pac-12’s $3 billion agreement with Fox and ESPN, have created newfound discussion about payments, unionization and increased medical coverage for athletes.
Locally, the Pac-12’s deal has also resulted in game times, game days and road trips that have sometimes been unpopular with fans, coaches and players alike.
“One of the issues that has been a serious concern for us at the University of Arizona is the two-day layover between road games during the Pac-12 men’s basketball season,” Hart said. “You leave on a Tuesday and get back (late) on a Saturday. That’s nearly a week of missed class. We have advisors help them, but you can’t imagine the stress that puts on them.”
The problem is that the Pac-12 offered scheduling flexibility in its negotiations for the $3 billion deal, so the conference may have limited leverage for push-back against scheduling it doesn’t like.
Still, Hart said it’s worth trying to work with media partners and that “growing public opinion” may pressure media networks to reconsider difficult schedules.
“I can’t speak for the Pac-12 in particular, but it looks like there were some dysfunctional outcomes that maybe weren’t thought through fully when the negotiations occurred,” Hart said. “And the whole notion of increased, ubiquitous coverage? Maybe all of us need to talk about what we want as a community of leaders. Exactly how exploitative does this get?”
In a phone interview with the Star on Thursday, Hart said she is for paying the full cost of attendance, extending graduation opportunities and adding to medical coverage — things she says UA already comes close to doing — but stopped short of supporting an outright pay-for-play system.
Among her opinions:
- On why Pac-12 presidents felt it was necessary to send the letter now, even though the NCAA won’t rule until August on whether major conferences can make changes:
“Some of the changes were recommended a few years ago (including a $2,000 stipend) but were rejected by the majority of the members of the NCAA. We felt we would take a more public stance in favor of the changes, ones that we felt would have an impact and were completely justified.
“I don’t think there’s any harm in making our position well known. There’s been a lot of dialogue and … a lot of momentum in making sure we don’t strangle ourselves with archaic rules.”
- On if the changes, such as paying the full cost of attendance, could be a financial strain:
“Some of us have been doing pretty close to these things for a while and … we won’t know how expensive it is if we don’t try. Things are pretty balanced for a student-athlete whose family is middle class, but we need to think about the students and their overall lives.”
- On basketball’s one-and-done rule, which is controlled by the NBA and its players association:
“We think there are some options we should consider. There are other models with other sports … I’ve read about all of them and I am open to discussion but I haven’t made up my mind.”
- On how much the full cost of attendance might be beyond what a scholarship package currently covers:
“I was on a subcommittee for student well-being three years ago. We addressed this issue and we recommended a stipend of $2,000 as a starting point. A lot of people think it’s more than that. It is certainly more at private schools, but I do think it’s worth doing an analysis on.”
- On pay-for-play and the notion of unionization:
“There are some very, very important values we need to preserve. We support graduate students with fellowships and tuition waivers and see them as students first, not employees; just like with GAs (graduate assistants), they are students first. We need to preserve that reality for all of our students.”