TIME College football

College Football Top 25, Ranked By Academics

Cameron Echols-Luper of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates his 69-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter during a game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Cameron Echols-Luper of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates his 69-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter during a game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas. Ed Zurga—Getty Images

TCU didn't get in the football playoffs, but at least the Horned Frogs won something.

Correction appended: Dec. 19, 2014.

Forgive fans of Texas Christian University’s football team for feeling blue over the holidays. After all, the Horned Frogs entered the last weekend of the regular season ranked third in the college football playoff rankings, good enough for a coveted spot in the four-team national semifinals. But by the weekend’s end, they painfully fell out of contention.

Horned Frogs boosters, take some solace. Because according to an annual academic ranking of the top 25 college football teams, your school is number one. “Overall, TCU is really the standout,” says Alexander Holt, policy analyst at New America, the Washington, D.C. think-tank which publishes the rankings, viewed first here at TIME. “It’s a real academic football power, which is very rare.”

For the final results, check out the chart below. Click the left tab for the football rankings, the right one for the academic top-25:

To compile the rankings, New America started with each school’s football graduation success rate (GSR). The GSR is an NCAA metric that, unlike the federal graduation rate, doesn’t penalize schools for having players who transfer or leave for the pros–as long as those players depart in good academic standing. The higher the school’s graduation success rate, the higher they start out in New America’s rankings.

But New America penalized schools for graduating football players at different rates than the overall male student body at the school. To compare players to students, New America relied on federal rates, since there’s no GSR for the general population. The bigger the discrepancy, the harsher the penalty. It’s important to note that even if a school graduated football players at higher rates than the overall male student population — four schools in the top 25, TCU, Arizona State, Arizona, and Boise State, did so — the difference was counted as a penalty. Why? “We were not going to reward schools with really low overall graduation rates,” says Holt. In fact, schools got an added bonus for having high overall rates.

TCU, for example, has a 77% federal graduation rate for football players, and a 73% federal graduation rate for all male students. This four point difference is relatively minor. But Boise St. has a 70% football graduation rate, and a 31% graduation rate for all the male students. The low overall rate hurts the school tremendously in these rankings: despite a strong 85% graduation success rate for football players, Boise State fell to 24th in these rankings.

Of the four playoff teams — Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State — the defending champion Seminoles have the lowest GSR, at 65%. “It’s super troubling,” says Holt. “Florida State is a very good football school. But what’s going on here with the other 35% of the players?”

TCU’s academic win won’t match the euphoria that a national title would deliver. But it’s something, right? “Sure,” says Jamie Plunkett, a TCU alum and managing editor of Frogs O’ War, a TCU fan site. “It’s always cool to be ranked number one in something. Where’s Baylor on that list?”

Correction: A number cited by Alexander Holt was misquoted in the original version of this story. The percentage of Florida State players who did not graduate is 35%.

Read next: The Big 12 Bites Itself in College Football Playoff

TIME College football

Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy Win Adds to Oregon’s Stunning Success

Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota answers questions during a press conference after winning the Heisman Trophy
Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota answers questions during a press conference after winning the Heisman Trophy in New York on Dec. 13, 2014. Brad Penner—USA Today Sports/Reuters

80th Heisman Trophy goes to Oregon’s quarterback

NEW YORK – Oregon wasn’t too concerned with subtlety during the 2001 season. That fall, the school kickstarted quarterback Joey Harrington’s Heisman Trophy campaign with a 10-story billboard plastered nearby Madison Square Garden in New York. The Ducks’ takeover of the Big Apple was the most visible element of Harrington’s campaign for the Heisman Trophy that season. For better or worse, the school’s efforts worked; Harrington escaped the relative anonymity of the Pacific Northwest and reached New York as a finalist, finishing fourth.

Thirteen years later, Marcus Mariota entered the season as another Heisman candidate hailing from Eugene. But how would the Hawaii native have felt about a billboard featuring his face the size of a minivan?

“I wouldn’t have enjoyed that,” Mariota said.

Luckily for the shy Mariota, he didn’t need the extra attention. Oregon’s quarterback did enough on his own this season. On Saturday, Mariota claimed the 80th Heisman Trophy, earning 90.92 percent of possible points, second all-time behind Ohio State‘s Troy Smith. He earned 788 first-place votes, which is the third-most in Heisman history, and he was named on 95.16 percent of ballots. That’s a new Heisman record.

Simply put, Mariota ran all over the Heisman competition.

More than a decade after Harrington’s campaign, Mariota became the first Oregon player inducted into the Heisman fraternity. His victory marked another milestone for the Ducks’ program, one that’s undergone a transformation since Harrington’s campaign 13 seasons ago. But in evolving into one of the country’s power programs, two achievements have eluded Oregon: A Heisman Trophy winner and a national championship. Now Mariota has delivered one to Eugene. Can he deliver another?

The Ducks couldn’t ask for a better star to lead the charge. Mariota compiled a season for the ages this fall. His 53 total touchdowns tied the Heisman record set by 2008 winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and finished the regular season as the nation’s leader in passing efficiency (183.6) thanks to a remarkable 38 touchdown passes against only two interceptions. The Pac-12 champions finished 12-1 and secured a Rose Bowl berth where they will play unbeaten Florida State.

The results must sound like a broken record to Ducks fans. Since former coach Mike Bellotti led Oregon to its first 10-win season in 2000 — one year before Harrington’s run to New York — the program has won 146 games, six conference titles and notched 10 double-digit wins seasons. Two other Oregon players, quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back LaMichael James, finished in the top-five of Heisman voting during that span.

Now the program has its first Heisman Trophy. Suddenly, Oregon doesn’t need billboards the size of skyscrapers to get noticed. Mariota is one of the biggest reasons why.

“I think through the continuation of the development of the program in the last decade, and all the thing that come with it — building a national brand, the uniforms, etc. — people are watching [Oregon] now,” Harrington told SI.com. “People have noticed how phenomenal Marcus has been really for three years now.”

The program’s evolution has been palpable to those who have witnessed the progress first-hand.

“Over the last several decades, Oregon football just keep rising and building and building,” said athletic director Rob Mullins, who’s been at Oregon since 2010. “The on-field success is showing itself. We’ve been in national championship games. We’ve been in a number of BCS bowl games. We’ve proven ourselves to be a consistent contender across the country.

“Obviously having a Heisman trophy is significant, and having it be the person that it is makes it even more significant. I don’t know how to measure it, but it’s nice to have.”

Mariota has led Oregon to a 35-4 record in those three seasons, but that record isn’t without blemishes. Mariota couldn’t beat Stanford until this season, and the Ducks fell to an unranked Arizona team late in 2013. Entering this fall, Oregon’s decade-plus of dominance was still without a championship trophy in its Nike-infused football complex. Mariota, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Pac-12 history, likely had one final shot at Heisman glory in 2014.

But history threatened to repeat itself this past October, when Oregon again fell to an unranked Arizona squad, 31-24, on a Thursday night. Mariota’s decision to spurn the NFL for another season in Eugene appeared destined for more disappointment.

“I think that was definitely a part of his thought process when he was thinking about coming back, ending on the right note,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “Whether it was losing to Stanford or losing to Arizona last year, just righting that in his mind. I think that played a part. I think it also played a part in helping his teammates to do that.”

Instead of wilting, the Ducks won eight straight games after losing to the Wildcats. But they need two more to earn the championship that has eluded them for so long. That task starts Jan. 1 in Pasadena against the Seminoles and last season’s Heisman winner, quarterback Jameis Winston. With a win, Oregon will play for a national championship for the first time since 2010.

That’s the goal for Mariota and the Ducks going forward. Asked on Saturday to reflect on the Heisman’s significance for the Oregon program, the quarterback said he’d trade the trophy in a second if it meant bringing a championship to Eugene. Mariota still has a chance to do that for the first time as a starter. That’ll be Oregon’s ultimate sign of success, as wins are no longer the benchmark for the program. The Ducks finally need a championship to complete their growth.

If Mariota plays his game, he’ll fill Oregon’s trophy case with a Heisman and a national title in the same season. That’s why he’s counting down the days until he can hit the field again.

“Honestly, I’m looking forward to it,” Mariota said.” These last couple days have been hectic, but it’s been so much fun. I’m just looking forward to getting back on the field. We do have a team goal. That’s the biggest concern.”

This article originally appeared on SportsIllustrated.com

TIME College football

Marcus Mariota, Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper Named Heisman Finalists

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon warming up on the field before an NCAA college football game against Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon warming up on the field before an NCAA college football game against Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

Award will be presented in New York City on Saturday

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper were announced as finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy on Monday.

The 80th Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Presentation will be held Saturday in New York City.

Mariota, widely considered the Heisman favorite, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award Monday as the country’s best fourth-year quarterback. Oregon finished the season No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, drawing a Rose Bowl berth vs. No. 3 Florida State. Mariota finished with 3,783 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and two interceptions. His average of 10.2 yards per attempt leads the country, while his 38 touchdowns rank second and his 3,783 passing yards rank fifth.

Heisman Watch: No controversy this year — Mariota will win

In Saturday’s Pac-12 championship game vs. Arizona, Mariota scored five total touchdowns (two passing, three rushing) to extend his Pac-12 single-season record for total touchdowns to 53.

Gordon enjoyed a record-breaking season, becoming the fastest player to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season and temporarily breaking the FBS single-game rushing record with 408 yards vs. Nebraska on Nov. 15 (Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine​ broke the record with 427 yards vs. Kansas the following week). For the season, Gordon has 2,336 rushing yards — leading the nation by 300 yards — and 26 touchdowns, which also lead the country.

Gordon averaged 241 rushing yards per game over Wisconsin’s final four regular-season contests before Ohio State stymied the Badgers’ offense in a 59-0 rout in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes held Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries, and also forced a fumble in the second quarter that led to a touchdown. Still, as SI’s Zac Ellis pointed out in his latest Heisman Watch, Gordon has 31 rushes of 20 yards or longer. That’s more than 118 FBS teams.

Complete 2014-15 college football bowl schedule, matchups

Cooper leads the nation with 115 receptions (an SEC single-season record) for 1,656 yards, and his 14 touchdowns are tied for second. Alabama finished No. 1 in the Playoff rankings and will face No. 4 Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. The winner will play the Oregon-Florida State winner.

Cooper’s Heisman candidacy reached its peak after Alabama’s Iron Bowl win over Auburn on Nov. 29. Cooper finished with his second 224-yard receiving day of the season, catching 13 passes and three touchdowns as the Crimson Tide outgunned the Tigers for a 55-44 win.

This article originally appeared on SportsIllustrated.com


The Big 12 Bites Itself in College Football Playoff

Iowa State v TCU
Texas Christian University Quarterback Trevone Boykin throws a pass during the thrid quarter of the Big 12 college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Dec. 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Naming TCU and Baylor co-champions gives College Football Playoff Committee an out: let a true conference champ in

Five power conferences. Four playoff spots.

Someone was always going to be left out.

It’s early December, which means one thing: a contingent of the country will be whining about its place in the college football postseason. Pick your administrative acronym! Whether it’s the BCS, or this year’s much-discussed CFP (College Football Playoff!), a school or schools were going to get screwed, according to players, coaches, and supporters of that school or schools. In this, the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, the screaming is particularly loud, as two teams from Texas — which happens to be the corporate headquarters of the playoff committee, and site of the national championship game — didn’t get an invite to the national semifinals.

Texas Christian University and Baylor, from the Big 12 conference, entered the weekend ranked third and sixth, respectively. They both took care of business this weekend: TCU trounced lowly Iowa State by 52 points, while Baylor beat No.9 Kansas State, 38-27.

But in college sports, that on-field business doesn’t always count. It’s the off-field machinations, conducted by highly-compensated bureaucrats, that determine the fate of unpaid amateurs.

The college sports business bit the Big 12. Schools like Missouri and Texas A&M and Colorado and Nebraska started abandoning the conference a few years back; the Big 12 now has only 10 teams. Under NCAA rules, you need 12 teams to hold a conference championship game; so the Big 12 didn’t have a clear champion in the eyes of the committee.

In lieu of a championship game, the Big 12 created a “One True Champion” campaign that now looks like a joke, since Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby presented both TCU and Baylor championship trophies on Saturday. Bowlsby played politics: he didn’t want to tick off either member of his club. But he got played. Without giving the selection committee a clear choice, even though Baylor beat TCU head-to-head in the regular season– no more logical tie-breaker on the planet exists — Bowlsby gave the selection committee an easy out.

Put Ohio State in the playoff.

The Big 10 has 14 teams. (We know, we know, the conference names really make no sense). So it played itself a championship game, and the Buckeyes, with their third string quarterback, destroyed 13th-ranked Wisconsin, 59-0. Such a decisive win in a high-stakes affair made the decision easy. Put the champs from four of the five power conferences in the playoff — Alabama (SEC), Oregon (Pac-12), Florida State (ACC), and Ohio State (Big 10). Leave the touchy-feely Big 12 — both of you boys win!! Trophies for everyone!!– out of it.

You have to feel for the players of TCU and Baylor: bad politics cost them a shot at the national championship. But we all know what the committee knows. College football wins here. Ohio State, with high-strung coach Urban Meyer, is a more compelling national draw than either TCU or Baylor. In the first year of the playoff, the New Year’s Day semifinals — Alabama vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Oregon and Florida State in the Rose Bowl — will get monster ratings.

As for the Big 12 — well, start adding teams. Or lobbying for a waiver start a championship game with 10 teams. Or change the tie-breaker rules.

In other words, get back to business. That’s what always wins here.

TIME College football

College Football Playoff Will Feature Alabama, Oregon, FSU, Ohio State

SEC Championship - Alabama v Missouri
Blake Sims #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Derrick Henry #27 against the Missouri Tigers in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 6, 2014 in Atlanta. No. 1 Alabama will play No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images

Baylor and TCU, which both went 11-1 in the Big 12, were left out

After a season’s worth of debate, the College Football Playoff field is finally set. The selection committee unveiled the four teams that will compete for the national championship on Sunday.

No. 1 Alabama will play No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, while No. 2 Oregon will face No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Baylor and TCU, which both went 11-1 in the Big 12, were left out.

Here are the top six teams in the playoff committee’s final rankings.

1. Alabama (12-1)
2. Oregon (12-1)
3. Florida State (13-0)
4. Ohio State (12-1)
5. Baylor (11-1)
6. TCU (11-1)

This article originally appeared at SI.com

TIME College Sports

Accuser’s Attorney: Jameis Winston Violated Confidentiality Instructions

Florida Florida St Football
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up prior to an NCAA college football game against Florida inTallahassee, Fla. on Nov. 29, 2014. John Raoux—AP

Winston's statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations

The attorney for the woman who accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her in 2012 alleges that Winston and his attorney have violated confidentiality instructions given by retired Florida State Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding.

Winston’s two-day hearing, which was heard by Harding, ended on Wednesday. The quarterback reportedly did not testify, but he did read a five-page statement denying the allegations against him. The statement was obtained by both ESPN and USA TODAY.

The woman’s attorney, John Clune, issued a statement on Thursday in response:

“It apparently took about one hour for Mr. Winston and his lawyer to violate Justice Harding’s confidentiality instructions by emailing out one of the exhibits to the media. Jameis Winston’s crude new recollection of events is as disgusting as it is implausible. He just keeps digging himself deeper. For now we will trust in the strength of our client’s repeated and consistent interviews. The time for Winston, [Chris] Casher, and [Ronald] Darby to fully explain this new story will come.”

Winston had the right to not answer any questions at the hearing. His teammates, Casher and Darby, reportedly refused to testify on Tuesday.

Winston’s statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations. He had previously denied the allegations through his attorney.

The purpose of the two-day hearing was to determine if Winston violated up to four school student conduct codes.

Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012. In November 2013, the state’s attorney announced that it was investigating the accusation. The investigation was completed a month later, and no charges were filed. Authorities have been criticized for being slow to act on the woman’s claim. In October, a FOX Sports report alleged that university administrators and Tallahassee police took steps to “hide and then hinder” an investigation.

After the hearing, Winston’s lawyer, David Cornwell​, told ESPN there was no evidence in the hearing to suggest the quarterback did anything wrong, while Clune said he expects Winston to be found responsible for sexually assaulting his client.

Harding has up to 10 class or exam days to submit his decision, meaning a decision does not need to be made until January.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME College football

Michigan Fires Brady Hoke After 4 Seasons as Wolverines Head Coach

Michigan v Northwestern
Head coach Brady Hoke of the Michigan Wolverines watches his team warm up before a game against the Northwestern Wildcats on November 8, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. David Banks—Getty Images

A defensive-minded coach, Hoke failed to build a potent offense

College football’s all-time winningest program is in need of a new coach. Michigan fired Brady Hoke on Tuesday after four seasons in Ann Arbor. Hoke’s final season at Michigan included losses to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State as the Wolverines finished 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten) and fell short of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009 and third time since 1974. The firing was first reported by Sam Webb and FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman. Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the news.

Hoke arrived at Michigan in 2011 after a two-year stint at San Diego State, where his Aztecs went 13-12, including 9-4 in his final season. San Diego State was 2-10 the year before Hoke arrived and hadn’t won nine games since 1971. Then Hoke’s debut Michigan team went 11-2, making him the only Wolverines coach since Fielding Yost to win at least 10 games in his first year at the helm. Michigan capped that campaign with a 23-20 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

But Hoke’s first season in Ann Arbor also proved to be his best. His program dropped to 8-5 in 2012, 7-6 in ’13 and 5-7 this fall. The Wolverines fell to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl after the ’12 season and lost to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in December ’13. They also lost to rival Ohio State three straight times. Hoke went 12-12 in Big Ten play during his final three seasons.

“I met with coach Hoke today and informed him of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program,” Hackett said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision given the level of respect that I have for Brady. He has done a great job of molding these young men, making them accountable to their teammates, focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. I wanted to make sure that Brady received adequate time to exhibit the results that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce those results and unfortunately they are not there. In the end, I feel that moving in a different direction is the right decision. I wish Brady and his family all the best in the future.”

“I feel very fortunate to have been an assistant and head coach at the University of Michigan,” Hoke said in a statement. “I will always support the university and this football program.”

A defensive-minded coach, Hoke failed to build a potent offense. This season the Wolverines finished 13th in the Big Ten in total offense (333.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.9 points per game). Hoke’s attack never flourished under quarterback Devin Gardner, who threw 31 touchdowns to 26 interceptions in two seasons as Michigan’s starter.

Hoke’s controversial handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion in a 30-14 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 27 further prompted calls for his ouster. Hoke’s staff reinserted Morris into the game after one play, even though he exhibited concussion-like symptoms.

The biggest issue throughout Hoke’s tenure may have been an inability to develop talent. The coach made a strong first impression in his debut season with a roster full of players recruited by his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez. Michigan’s on-field product never met the hype of Hoke’s top-10 recruiting classes in 2012 and ‘13.

A proven ability to cultivate talent should be a priority for the Wolverines in their next coach, regardless of whether he is a Michigan Man. Hoke spent eight seasons (1995-2002) as a Michigan assistant, the last as associate head coach and defensive line coach. Yet hiring an outsider (Rodriguez) didn’t work, either.

SI.com’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans reported last month that Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Minnesota’s Jerry Kill and ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano could all be candidates to replace Hoke. Former athletic director Dave Brandon resigned on Oct. 31, so interim AD Hackett will lead the search.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME College football

University of Alabama-Birmingham Officially Shuts Down Football Program

UAB Blazers v Arkansas Razorbacks
Head Coach Bill Clark of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers is seen with his team during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on October 25, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Wesley Hitt—Getty Images

The "financial realities" it faces from an administrative standpoint made the football program unsustainable

The University of Alabama at Birmingham announced Tuesday that it has shut down its football program. Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans reported on Sunday that the announcement was expected some time this week.

In the press release announcing the decision, President Ray L. Watts said the “financial realities” it faces from an administrative standpoint made the football program unsustainable. The bowling and rifle programs will also be dropped in the 2014-15 academic year.

“The fiscal realities we face — both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint — are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the Athletic Department and UAB,” Watts said. “As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the Athletic Department, football is simply not sustainable.”

Watts also announced that athletic director Brian Mackin has been reassigned from his position, at Mackin’s request. Mackin will fill the role of “the newly created position of special assistant for Athletics,” according to the release. Mackin will “assist student-athletes and coaches affected by the discontinuation of programs.” Mackin had been UAB’s athletic director since 2007.

“While Brian has been leading the strategic review process for the Athletic Department, working closely with our consultants to inform and guide their analysis, he does not wish to lead our newly constituted Athletic Department,” Watts said. “I respect his decision and thank him for his 12 years of service. In his new role, Brian has a great opportunity to make this transition easier for the affected athletes and coaches as they work to make the best decisions for their futures.”

UAB finished this season 6-6 under first-year coach Bill Clark. Clark took over a program already lacking financial support and one that hadn’t had a winning season since 2004.

UAB football players were told about the decision in a meeting with Watts on Tuesday.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

MONEY College

Would Your Tuition Bills Go Up If College Athletes Got Paid?

Drake Johnson (#20) of the Michigan scores against Indiana on November 1 , 2014 in Ann Arbor. Leon Halip—Getty Images

As the college football season heats up, the action far from the field could eventually raise the costs of fielding teams.

Wins by college athletes in courtrooms and boardrooms could end up in losses for their non-athlete classmates.

High-profile legal cases and NCAA policy changes are likely to boost the cost of fielding big-time athletics programs. And students—even those who never attend a single college basketball or football game—may have to foot the bill, higher-education finance experts say.

How the Game Is Changing

The most sweeping changes to college sports could come from an antitrust suit against the NCAA pending in New Jersey, in which attorney Jeffrey Kessler contends that college athletes should be paid as much as the market dictates—a salary, essentially. A win for Kessler, who filed the suit on behalf of former Clemson football player Martin Jenkins, likely would spark bidding wars among universities for top recruits by eliminating limits on such payments.

The case is likely to go to trial next fall.

“I do believe that if the Kessler case wins, that could break the bank for the NCAA as we know it today,” says William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland system and co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “This would become like a mini NFL draft. It would become a free market.”

Other factors also promise to change the rules of the game.

A federal judge in August ruled in favor of former college athletes, led by UCLA star basketball player Ed O’Bannon, in an antitrust suit against the NCAA that could lead to back payments for as many as 100,000 former athletes and additional scholarship money for future ones.

The ruling came less than five months after the National Labor Relations Board concluded Northwestern University football players were, essentially, university employees, and could unionize.

Some schools have already hinted they would pay athletes thousands of dollars more per year after NCAA officials—independent of any lawsuits—said they might allow universities to cover athletes’ entire cost of attendance.

Who Will Foot a Bigger Bill?

Only a handful of NCAA Division I schools have self-sustaining athletics programs—just 20 of the nearly 130 schools in the top-flight Football Bowl Subdivision, for example—so most universities subsidize those departments, even in a pre-Kessler, pre-O’Bannon world. At public institutions in particular, part of that subsidy is drawn from student fees.

According to the Knight Commission, growth in athletics funding at Division I schools outpaced academic spending from 2005 to 2012. Students at some schools pay $1,000 in athletics fees alone.

Changes to how student-athletes are paid could lead some schools, stuck with nowhere else to turn, to raise other students’ fees. Universities and colleges could also scale back their athletics programs to cut costs. That “would be the rational approach,” Kirwan said. “But when it comes to college athletics, rationality doesn’t often prevail,” he said. “There are so many societal pressures.”

Research shows that some students don’t even know their fees are already paying for athletics. At Ohio University, for instance, 41% of revenue from the general fee of $531 per quarter for full-time students in 2010 went to intercollegiate athletics, but 54% of students didn’t know it, according to a survey by the nonprofit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

Dividing the $765 per year they paid for athletics through the fee by the number of games the average Ohio University student attended, the center calculated that students were paying the equivalent of more than $130 per athletic event they actually watched in person.

Eighty-one percent said they opposed raising the amount of their fees that went to the athletics program, or wanted it reduced.

If the Kessler lawsuit succeeds, “The institutions that rely primarily on student fees are going to have to make a decision about whether they’re going to try to keep up,” says Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission. “When you have schools with $5 million for their entire athletic budget trying to compete with schools that have $5 million coaches, it’s going to strain at some point.”

The Pressure to Stay in the Game

Even some schools in the “Big 5” conferences—the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12—where football and basketball bring in big bucks will have trouble maintaining their programs if bidding for athletes takes off, experts said. Schools on the fringes of big-time sports success, such as UC Berkeley, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Indiana, would have tough decisions to make about whether to pass on costs to students, says Murray Sperber, a UC Berkeley professor who has written several books about the role of college sports.

The most likely outcome, Sperber says, would be for at least some of those universities to drop out of the big-time sports world by eliminating athletics scholarships or otherwise scaling back sports programs rather than risking protests by paying athletes and charging students more. But some colleges in mid-tier conferences will probably choose to stay in the bidding game, he says.

“You think of it as a big poker game where the stakes keep going up,” Sperber says. “The students in trouble potentially are those at schools beyond the Big 5, because they’ll have to decide whether to stay in the poker game.”

No Price Tag on School Spirit

Students at some big-time Division I schools said athletic success is important not just for the campus but also for the community. The University of Kentucky basketball program, for example, is part of the school’s and the state’s identity, says Jacob Ingram, president of that university’s student body.

“One of the things the state of Kentucky identifies with most is the Big Blue Nation,” says Ingram, a senior from Nicholasville, Kentucky. “What a great way to leverage our brand and share the rest of what the university has to offer.”

At Rutgers, which is in its first year in the Big Ten, the athletics department has taken on new importance with its climb into the Big 5 ranks. Few students seem to mind paying for that prominence, says senior Brian Link, and even fewer would want to see the school to roll back the affiliation.

“Given the state of where our athletic program is, I think if we have a de-emphasis on athletics a lot of people wouldn’t be too happy,” says Link, from Sayreville, N.J. “That’s where a lot of our school pride comes from—our athletic program. A lot of people in New Jersey root for Rutgers because there aren’t other big-time programs here.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME Crime

Report: Florida State Football Star Got Traffic Tickets After Hit-and-Run

A public police database did not contain any record of the crash

A Florida State University football player who allegedly left the scene of a car crash in which he was a driver received traffic tickets for what normally would qualify as a crime, the New York Times reported. A public police database did not contain any record that the player, starting cornerback P. J. Williams, was involved in the crash.

The report is the latest scandal to draw attention to preferential treatment of the school’s athletes by local authorities. The Tallahassee police failed to conduct a thorough investigation of quarterback and Heisman Trophy-winner Jameis Winston after he was accused of rape last year. That story prompted outrage and accusations of bias by local officials.

Read the full story in the New York Times.

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