Throw your copy of the third Knight Commission Report on a bonfire. It was supposed to be a blueprint for reform in college athletics but now it’s worthless because one of its chief architects, Wake Forest president Tom Hearn, helped escalate the arms race in college athletics. He should be ashamed of himself.
VIRGINIA TECH AND MIAMI have accepted bids to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Hearn was one of seven votes for expansion of the ACC. The vote will plunder the Big East and add millions of dollars to the coffers of ACC athletic budgets.
Thus, the ACC schools can continue their grand expansion plans. They can continue to pay coaches hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and have palaces for their football and basketball teams. They can create plush weight rooms for players and velvet suites for boosters in football stadiums.
At the same time, they can continue to blame any budget problems on Title IX when any right-thinking person knows Title IX isn’t breaking the backs of athletic departments, it’s the debt service on all these new arenas and stadium expansions.
Hearn could have stopped it. He had numerous chances in the last 18 months to halt the escalation. He could have told the other ACC presidents it’s the wrong thing to do and been the third “no” vote to expansion.
But he voted “yes” for Virginia Tech and Miami — and he should have gone and washed his hands.
Two years ago, Hearn, among other presidents, signed his name to the 2001 Knight Commission report. I saw his signature on the document, “Thomas K. Hearn, Jr.” He pledged to stop the commercialization in college athletics and curb the arms race.
Now Hearn has struck a match to the third Knight Commission report — the one that blasts escalation of the arms race — and tossed it away in flames. Seems he never meant what he said.
It’s been 12 years since the historic NCAA Convention in Nashville, the so-called Reform Convention, when Hearn stood up to the Southeastern Conference machine and demanded it stop with its athletic dorms, training tables, booster hijinks, and scandalous behavior.
Reform in college athletics had some real traction because of people like Hearn. He was one of the heroes.
Hearn can come down from the pulpit now, exposed like an evangelist caught in a brothel.
A faculty rep at an ACC school told me Hearn has “sold out.” The rep is right. Wake Forest saw a chance to make some big money and increase the prestige of its football program, so it went with expansion.
Maybe the Wake trustees and boosters pushed him into it. If they did, Hearn should resign.
Another member of the Knight Commission said he was “surprised” at Hearn for voting for the expansion.
Asked to explain himself, Hearn wouldn’t take calls.
What Hearn and the other presidents did isn’t just swinging a wrecking ball at the Big East, they dragged the ACC — a great conference — into the mud pit of the football powerhouse conferences. It seems they just couldn’t help themselves.
The ACC is angling for a new TV contract and it wanted Miami’s football powerhouse. It wanted viewers to see commercials and pay to keep the ACC brand sizzling.
Worse than that, Georgia Tech president Wayne Clough, among others, hid out and was afraid to take hard questions on expansion. Behind closed doors the presidents complained about being portrayed as money-hungry, yet they wouldn’t come out in the light and hold the process up for others to see.
What are Hearn and Clough hiding? They say the Big East lawsuit has no merit, so why close out the debate?
ACC officials insist they need the money for student-athlete support systems. Maybe they do. Ten football players at Georgia Tech have just been put on the sidelines as academic failures.
Wake Forest can at least claim that as a private institution, it can do what it likes. But public institutions like Georgia Tech, Virginia, and North Carolina State must be up front. And they weren’t.
Now the ACC is disgraced. It couldn’t get the seven votes it needed for expansion so it discussed changing by-laws to require six votes. When that met with resistance, it discussed inviting Virginia Tech as the choice of last resort.
Then Virginia Tech, which was part of a lawsuit against the ACC, did an about-face and accepted a bid. How ludicrous. Several weeks ago, its athletic director and president blasted the ACC expansion plan.
But just watch. The Tech administration will get the politicians to cover for them, saying “hey, it wasn’t us, the politicians made us join the ACC.”
The whole affair will be an unseemly mess that could have been stopped long ago.
Tom Hearn could have just said no.
Ray Glier is a free-lance writer and a frequent contributor to NBCSports.com
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