PROVO — Has the NCAA lost control of college sports? If you look closely at the motivation of the major athletic conferences, now in an intense chase to gather up more treasure with TV contracts, the answer is "yes."

If you note how the NCAA can discipline an athlete for accepting a breakfast from a booster but is impotent at controlling millions raked in by a school, you get the picture. This has led to college expansion that could impact the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences, where Utah, BYU and Utah State play.

Once upon a time, colleges fielded sports teams basically for fun, and the gate was a bonus to help with expenses. Cheerleaders and guys with letterman jackets formed a hero-worship culture.

Now, it is all about money. TV contracts for conferences are an agenda item in intense, closed-boardroom negotiations. Conference commissioners must have a nose for corporate finances, contract law and media ratings and must be skilled negotiators to sell the league's brand. The Pac-10 hired a talent agency of sorts to advise how to sell sports.

There is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots among college athletic conferences, and those with power have taken on the snobbish nobility of early European royalty that intermarried to keep blood pure and accumulate as much wealth as possible.

This money grab is now all about guarding and furthering one's turf. Today, we see it under the banner of expansion talk among conferences that seek the answer to the question: Who can get us more money? It is no longer about scores, yardage and points

Athletic budgets are soaring. So are travel and recruiting costs. Schools pimp their athletic programs to make an extra buck. Much of the money is needed to pay exorbitant salaries of coaches like USC's Lane Kiffin, who has really accomplished little but will be paid more than $4 million in his first year with the Trojans. Florida's assistant coaches will make more than $2 million as a group in 2010.

Nobody begrudges workers their coin, if that's the market, but that's just it. College sports is no longer just for fun. And in the process, athletes are ridden like a gold-mine donkey. Granted they get a paid education, but they've become the tobacco and cotton field slaves that drive the business.

The biggest plantation owners are the Big Ten and SEC, and they know it. They are out to protect their equity, tradition, trade routes and goods at the market, and to hell with everyone else, including NCAA rule.

This was never more clear than a recent dialogue between outspoken Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and the Chronicle of Higher Education. In summary, Delany said the NCAA should not interfere with the treasure chests filled by college conferences like his.

The question was, "What should be the role of the NCAA in regulating some of the commercial issues in college sports?"

Delany's lengthy answer? It's a long one, but read carefully

Delany: "Essentially these decisions are local, and it makes it really, really hard. The schools are serving stakeholders, coaches, athletes and fans, in some respects, not stockholders. And so there is always a stakeholder to make a claim on resources. Whether it's to have the best law school or the best medical school, no one questions that kind of competition. No one questions that Harvard or Texas have a (big) endowment and don't share it with Hofstra and South Alabama.

"But intercollegiate athletics is sort of unique in that institutions that have certain advantages based on demographics or history or tradition or fan base somehow are seen as the source of resources for others that do not," Delany continued.

"I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon, but there's certainly a lot of gnashing of teeth, like why doesn't the Rose Bowl spread its revenue around to Boise State? Well, partially because we developed it. We built it, it's our tradition, and to the extent that it's successful, it's successful for our institutions. So that's essentially a home-rule approach. I think it's an honest approach. I don't think there's anything wrong with money, but life's a lot easier when you have it than when you don't."

There, you have it. We're back to strong rooms in castles, King Henry VIII and his wives. This is college sports in 2010. It is what today's headlines are all about.

14 comments on this story

The sad thing is, Delaney is probably right.

College sports is no longer bone, muscle and sinew.

The key is property, stocks, bonds, portfolios and equity.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com