While many are quick to lob criticism at the NCAA for its efforts to maximize the profit of its college athletics media and licensing business, few dissenting opinions come from the coaching ranks.
College football legend Steve Spurrier has long been an advocate for the recently adopted player stipends and Kentucky’s John Calipari has offered a few reasonable suggestions for NCAA reform, but by and large the guys making millions off the enterprise tend to advocate for the system.
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin has had a unique vantage point, however, as college athletics evolved from big business into a mega business. He inherited a successful program in 2006 which had recently joined the Big East, giving his team the chance to play against college basketball’s greatest regional powers while the school earned top-tier revenue and visibility.
But when a wave of realignment shook up Division I five years ago, Cincinnati was one of three schools effectively kicked out of the big-money power party. The athletic department took a significant pay cut through no wrongdoing of its own.
Another negative outcome of the de facto demotion is that the American Athletic Conference, the Bearcats’ new home, has not been treated kindly by the NCAA Selection Committee. Cronin offered his candid thoughts on these developments in an interview with Fox19.
“The NCAA Tournament committee and everything is so financially driven that no matter what is said on that Sunday, they’re trying to sell tickets,” he said, implying the committee would move teams around in the rankings to drive ticket sales.
“Nobody will admit that,” he added, “because it’s all about the student-athlete apparently.”
It’s not just the Selection Committee. The early-season tournaments are also showing biases which go beyond who’s best on the court.
“We got subbed into Maui late,” he said, referencing the Bearcats’ 2009 appearance in the Maui Invitational. “Louisville pulled out, we didn’t have a chance to package it for our fans. We can’t get the invite back because we didn’t bring any fans.”
Cincinnati beat No. 22 Maryland in the semifinals of that tournament but fell to Gonzaga in overtime of a tightly-contested championship game.
“Probably one of the best final games they ever had,” Cronin said.
The 11th-year head coach kept bringing it back to the harsh realities, and sad truths, of modern college athletics, showing empathy for the non-revenue sports.
“If it wasn’t a business we’d be able to have a bus trip in the conference we play in,” he said. “That goes for the women’s soccer team [and men’s soccer team] … we don’t have a bus trip. Don’t tell me it’s not all about money … Anybody who thinks this isn’t a business is wrong, living in a fantasy land.”