FBS ADs urge college football reform, but not NCAA breakaway

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WASHINGTON — The athletic directors who lead the schools that play Division I college football at the highest level want the sport to continue to be governed by the NCAA – if that governance can be streamlined.

LEAD1, an association of Football Bowl Subdivision ADs, convened 105 of its 131 members Wednesday for a meeting that focused mostly on how best to govern major college football.

There has been some momentum in the past year to seriously explore breaking FBS away from the NCAA and creating another structure to run the biggest revenue generator in college sports.

For now, though, the preference is for reform within the current structure.

“At the end of the day, it was very clear that the status quo is not acceptable,” said LEAD1 President and CEO Tom McMillen, the former Maryland basketball star and congressman. “And that there was a strong, very strong, preference for a model in the NCAA that is extremely streamlined and much less bureaucratic.”

McMillen added: “And if that can’t be accomplished, move it to the outside.”

McMillen did not detail what a more efficient governing model for major college football would entail.

He said LEAD1 planned to gather ideas cultivated at Wednesday’s meeting and share them with NCAA officials in a letter.

“We’re a facilitator. We’re not the decision-maker,” McMillen said. “We recommend. That’s really the extent of what we can do.”

The NCAA is in the midst of what college sports leaders hope will be an overhaul of the way Division I is structured and governed.

The Division I Transformation Committee was formed last year and has been meeting regularly for months. It is led by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio athletic director Julie Cromer, who is also a member of LEAD1.

“Certainly the debate today has been helpful,” Cromer said. “I think we’ll use this feedback in our transformation committee work.”

The Transformation Committee has already handed down proposals related to transfer rules and how NCAA enforcement operates as part of phase one of its work. A set of those proposals were approved last month.

Phase two is in progress, with membership requirements for schools, student-athlete benefits, access to championship events and revenue distribution at the core of the discussions.

“I think there exists some frustration with the lack of responsibility and the ability to be nimble and specific to our needs in football, within the current decision-making structure,” Cromer said of the FBS ADs.

As the NCAA’s role in governance is deemphasized, and more power is handed down to conferences and schools, it seemed a perfect time for a re-assessment of how major college football operates to many athletic directors.

The NCAA has limited involvement over FBS compared to the rest of Division I sports. The conferences run the College Football Playoff and share the hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue it generates with no NCAA involvement.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has suggested the College Football Playoff could become the governing body for major college football.

“Nothing about its current constitution would support that,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbick told The Associated Press last month. “So you can change it to play that role. But it’s not set up to do it now.”

One of the concerns about moving away from the NCAA would be the need to create a new, similar organization.

McMillen said the NCAA spends about $65 million per year on administrative and insurance costs.

“That does not include any kind of extraordinary costs or legal,” McMillen said. “As you know, the NCAA is the legal shield. They take a lot of the front load.”

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an independent group of former and current college administrators that advocates for an emphasis on education in college sports, proposed in 2020 separating FBS from the rest of NCAA sports.

Sankey has said he is adamantly against the Knight Commission’s proposal, in large part because he doesn’t like the idea of compartmentalizing one sport within an athletic department.

Sankey attended the LEAD1 meeting to give the ADs an update on the Transformation Committee’s work.

He said he also shared with the ADs his skepticism for the effectiveness of an FBS breakaway from the NCAA. He said he understands the desire for change.

“And given the distinctions around football, there are those who view that as a relevant point of change,” Sankey said. “But then the why, the outcomes, those have to be much further developed.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.