Just thinking out loud (and in print):
Thought No. 1: Anybody surprised at the joint announcement from Northern Illinois University president John Peters and president-designate Doug Baker that the national search for a permanent associate vice president and director of athletics moved into warp-speed mode? To a point, I was.
Upon Jeff Compher's departure for East Carolina in April and with Christian Spears being named acting AD, the administrative transition had been initiated. I figured the new AD eventuallywould be in place sometime in the upcoming fall semester. September? October? Now the late August timetable seems pretty ambitious. What changed in Altgeld Hall?
It might tell us something about Baker's priorities with intercollegiate athletics. Every time a university changes chief executives, you wonder where sports ranks on the priority list. With a high-profile football program that generated an estimated $80 million-plus in media exposure – according to NIU spokesman Brad Hoey – in December, there's a looming urgency to maintain and build on that momentum. I also would believe there's an administrative urgency to repair the underperforming basketball programs and address some other departmental external issues. Stay tuned.
Thought No. 2: Gannett News Service (and USA Today) sports columnist Mike Lopresti wrote his retirement column last week and talked about all the changes in the NCAA since 1970. A Ball State grad, Lopresti began his stellar sportswriting career at the Richmond, Ind., Paladium-Item and always had an appreciation, maybe even a soft spot, for the Mid-American Conference.
In his final column, Lopresti recalled things many of us might have forgotten. For example, he observed that the complete field of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament encompassed only 25 schools in 1970 (the main reason the 21-4 Huskies didn’t land an NCAA bid in 1971-72), the national TV contract for the entire tourney went for $500,000, and the Final Four was played at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House (capacity 14,500). Compare that with the mega-everything of today.
(As an aside, and a commentary on the inept offensive capabilities in contemporary college men’s hoops, Lopresti also noted that that the Artis Gilmore-led Jacksonville quintet reached its first – and only – NCAA title game in 1970 by scoring 109 points against Western Kentucky, 104 against Iowa, and 106 and Kentucky in the Mideast Regional, plus 91 against St. Bonaventure in the NCAA semifinals before losing to UCLA, 80-69.)
How times have changed.
Thought No. 3: Which leads us to NCAA football “future shock” (to borrow from best-selling author Alvin Toffler). What’s next?
Maryland and Rutgers in a two-division, 14-institution Big Ten Conference. League-swapping left and right (18 football programs switching conference affiliation in 2013). The FBS membership swelling to 125 schools this fall. A four-team Bowl Championship Series playoff in 2014. Discussion of student-athlete stipends beyond scholarships. Locally, BCS-buster NIU in the 2013 Orange Bowl, the Huskies hosting games at Soldier Field and Massachusetts joining the MAC. That’s just off the top of my balding head.
What will the NCAA football landscape resemble and where do the Huskies fit in 2023 (or two ADs from now)?
When college administrators saw the proposed new BCS playoff TV revenue – a reported $500 milion to $600 million in 2014 – everyone wanted to position their programs for a bigger piece of the pie. And I do mean everyone.
Thought No. 4: Consider the subtle 2013 Big Ten gridiron changes. Nine league games instead of eight mean fewer nonconference opportunties for the MAC. Now you hear about Big Ten administrators not scheduling “cupcakes” or Football Championship Subdivision programs and negotiating future, major-event intersectional games in venues such as Yankee Stadium in New York or Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
No offense, but your average MAC program will not be a drawing card in either New York or Dallas.
Thought No. 5: Ever since the formation of the College Football Association in the 1980s, I’ve wondered if and when the major-major football programs ever would do more than consider seceding from the NCAA and to create their own super-elite league and cut out the pesky mid-majors.
Although the CFA was mostly about TV revenue and anti-trust litigation, where would, say, Oklahoma (which sued the NCAA for that aforementioned TV money, won and opened the door for even the Huskies to appear on SportsVision and other cable outlets) – compete in men’s or women’s basketball or in Olympic sports without the NCAA?
With the BCS playoff a reality in 2014, when do the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC finally formalize the big move to such an elite division within the NCAA (and pay student-athletes)? You’re talking about more than half of the current 125 FBS programs. Where would that leave the “Group of Five” (Big East, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt), particularly, revenue-wise?
Thought No. 6: With schools such as Appalachian State, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Georgia State all ascending into the FBS ranks, there are more mid-major mouths to feed than ever. James Madison and Liberty also reportedly are considering a move up.
“The million-dollar question is to try and guess and anticipate what the future is,” FCS-level Northern Iowa AD Troy Dannen told the Terre Haute, Ind., Tribune-Star recently. “Over the last five years, people have been bailing (out of) FCS football as fast as they can get into a bowl division (FBS). They’re not doing it for financial reasons. That’s a misnomer. You’re going to make more money, you’re going to spend more money. But I think they’re doing it because of an insecurity of where FCS football is headed.”
According to the Tribune-Star and the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph, both Illinois State and Indiana State were contacted by the Sun Belt Conference about football membership this spring. Maybe there was a reason for Illinois State to fund a $25 million renovation of Hancock Stadium. And, for now, maybe both ISUs don't mind competing in the FCS Missouri Valley Football League. The future? Most everybody in the country saw NIU finish 12-2 and reach the Orange Bowl. Could Appalachian State, et al., duplicate such a BCS run? All this positioning in a stalled economy with factors such as budgets, Title IX compliance, 22 additional football scholarships, expanded athletics facilities and additional coaching/support staff all in the mix. Contemplation for institutions of higher learning, indeed.
Time is the essence.
Thought No. 7: It's not 1970 any more when there was only 11 bowl games (compared to 35 last season). Think strategic. "Future Shock" squared. Where will NIU football be in 2023? No wonder John Peters and Doug Baker expedited the NIU AD search. Can you say all-time critical Huskie hire?
• Mike Korcek is a former NIU sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.