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NCAA Facing Pressures On Every Front

In recent days, commissioners from the SEC, the ACC and the Big 12 have taken turns ripping the NCAA. And why not? The balance of power has clearly moved more to the major conferences, while the NCAA is mired not just in the traditional bureaucracy but is also under assault on other fronts, including their investigative techniques, the president's integrity and not least of all the Ed O' Bannon suit.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby thinks that Division 1 is too big, apparently because the non-power schools can outvote the bigs. And there's no question that the power conferences have grown frustrated. Bowslby has a certain point: in most worlds, Texas and Alabama would not be in the same neighborhood as Davidson and Montana.

We're not knocking those schools, just acknowledging that Bowlsby has a point.

There are always counterpoints of course, and the primary one is this: what are college sports for and about? Specifically, how do you balance the huge amounts of money the big schools generate with, well, with school? Is the thin fiction of student-athletes to be maintained? We know a lot of schools do take academics seriously - Duke certainly, but also Notre Dame, Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt and a number of others.

The pressures are undeniable though. You need to have the athletes at their absolute best on game day, and you need to win, because if you don't, you fall behind very quickly. The so-called arms race of facilities is part of this but it's subordinate. It all comes down to winning.

With a reformation of the NCAA, and with what seems like a losing hand in the O'Bannon case, here's what will happen next: some very powerful senators and congressmen from states and districts which are not part of the power conferences will move to strip the organization's tax-free status.

For instance, the current chairman of the Ways & Means Committee is from Michigan's 4th District and doesn't necessarily have any particular investment in the Big Ten.

The power conferences might get exactly what they want, but once they do, they might find that a more professional sort of college sports has very serious problems as well.