By Alexandria Valdez
ORLANDO, Fla. — She was the first president of the WNBA and the former president of USA Basketball. Now Val Ackerman is the Big East Conference commissioner. Ackerman spoke during lunch May 23 at the Association for Women in Sports Media convention and discussed the future of college sports.
Ackerman said there are five issues that college athletics are wrestling with right now: how college sports operate, how to get the NCAA’s constituents involved in the decision-making process, the impact of the commercial success of college football and basketball, women in college athletics and the future of college athletics.
Ackerman discussed how college sports operate. The NCAA’s rules were recently criticized after Connecticut men’s basketball player Shabazz Napier said during the NCAA Tournament that he went to bed hungry some nights and Boise State wanted to offer housing to an athlete who was homeless. The NCAA, Ackerman said, has to deal with hundreds of schools and that it’s different than professional leagues such as the WNBA or NBA.
“The NCAA has never not been at a critical juncture,” Ackerman said. “Now it’s really the case.”
Ackerman compared the NCAA to a bus and discussed who the driver was and who was on it. The NCAA is trying to get student-athletes, athletic directors and others involved in the decision-making process. Driving the bus are the “Big Five” conferences that have separated themselves from the pack with commercial success. This group of five major conferences wants autonomy in all areas so they don’t have restrictions how can they spend their money and do other things.
“How revenues should be directed is important,” Ackerman said. “It has important implications for athletes, universities and the perception of college sports.”
With commercial success of football and basketball, Ackerman said people need to think about the impacts. These two sports are funding everyone else, she said, and asked what this meant for sports that don’t produce that kind of revenue. The commercial success of those two sports brings up the issue of pay-for-play and leads to legal challenges. Ackerman said the next step might be getting legal help.
Her final two points talked about women in sports and the future. Visibility is one of the biggest problems for women’s college sports. The women’s NCAA Tournament games are at different venues than the men’s tournament but Ackerman posed the possibility of a combined Final Four. The crowds would be bigger, the timing would be better and women would get more exposure. She also said women’s soccer needs more visibility if it is going to succeed at a professional level.