IMG is heavily invested in the world of College sports, and as a major player in the industry, it commands a little attention when they hold an event like this morning's Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. Villanova University's President Fr. Peter Donohue was a member of the morning's panel discussion on NCAA Governance issues and college athletics generally, sharing the stage with Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch and NCAA President Mark Emmert.
The Villanova President didn't necessarily shatter the earth with his statements, but reiterated the Big East's official talking points about how the league plans to keep pace with the Power 5 Conferences -- at least as far as basketball is concerned. The Big East presidents, he said, had determined that they would pay the full cost of attendance for men's and women's basketball players in an attempt to maintain (or regain) status as an "elite basketball conference."
Donohue wants the Big East schools to decide individually how to treat athletes in other sports.
For most of the schools outside the Power 5 -- and certainly for a few within it -- the idea of offering a full-cost of attendance scholarship to a women's water polo athlete is probably not an appealing one. These athletes aren't revenue generators like Men's basketball players, and don't easily balance the equation like women's hoops would. The move is one that will potentially allow the Big East to offer the same experience as anyone to men's basketball recruits without stretching the department budgets beyond what their television revenue will offer -- which is about one-fifth what the Big 12 and Big Ten distribute to members.
Still, they also took the party line on athlete status within the structure.
Donohue, on athletes being deemed employees: "I would hate to guess [what that would mean]. It would change things drastically. "
Asked about Villanova forgoing the once-proposed move to the Bowl Subdivision that was once dangled as a lifeboat during the frantic stages of realignment that preceded the formation of the new Big East Conference, he stated that it was 'based on where they are, the kind of school, what they do best,' according to one attendee.
Being content to remain within your comfort zone is an opinion that many people have. It seems a little strange when compared to the grandiose visions of Villanova's Future that the President paints.
Fr. Donohue has been very invested in the idea of changing who Villanova is academically -- he's been pushing a plan to shift into the "national universities" category since taking the job, for example -- and physically/socially, including the nine-figure campus expansion on the Main Lot. It seems to not fit well with that theme of seismic change and growth to say that athletics ought to remain small and contained as the University as a whole grows. Most other universities with big ambitions in those other areas include athletic evolution in the package.
The moves and decisions that Villanova has made for athletics have been made separate from the ambitions of the university as a whole. The decision has been a relatively good one in the short-term, but more changes are coming for college sports and the University will be forced to live with its decisions.
Will the Big East be able to keep up with the Power 5 in basketball forever? Are cuts to athletics coming down the pipeline as the costs rise for men's hoops?
The decision that Villanova didn't make was the riskier proposition, and short-term it certainly looked like one that could have been very painful. It was also the move that had the higher upside in the long-term. On the balance, the riskier high-upside decision is always a difficult one to make; it is a move that requires a significant financial, and (more importantly) cultural commitment from the University community as a whole and the administration particularly.
Fr. Donohue's participation in this panel, however, is a sign that the university president is, at the very least, well-informed on what the issues facing Division I athletics are. Leadership will, at the very least, have a chance to make the right moves to keep Villanova's programs in position to succeed.