SAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) — Lynn Holzman took over as commissioner of the West Coast Conference last month at a tumultuous time in college athletics.
A federal judge is deciding whether college players can profit on their names, images and likeness, the National Labor Relations Board is mulling whether football players at Northwestern can form a union and the NCAA is expected to give the five biggest conferences autonomy to make their own rules about how to treat student-athletes.
The entire amateur model of college athletics could be altered in the coming months, forcing smaller non-football conferences like the WCC to reassess its goals and position.
As much unease as that might cause, it is a conversation that Holzman believes is long overdue.
“I think it is really timely and appropriate that the questions are being raised,” she said. “In an ideal world I think we as a membership would have been able to resolve these issues without outside forces forcing the conversation. But sometimes that’s the only way change happens.”
Holzman believes in the collegiate amateur model that gave her a scholarship to play basketball at Kansas State more than two decades ago and is currently under threat.
But she acknowledges that the NCAA and its member schools have been far too slow to give more assistance to the athletes while spending has increased dramatically in college sports.
“Over the course of the last 20 years, you have had coaching salaries increasing at a higher rate, you have investment in facilities, you have all these other things that have continued to change but yet what the student-athlete has been provided has been relatively flat,” she said. “There has been greater investment in services but the direct aid to student-athletes when you look at the value of scholarships, that hasn’t changed in decades.”
Holzman came to the WCC two years ago as senior associate commissioner after spending the previous 16 years working at the NCAA headquarters. Having also been a student-athlete, Holzman has a unique perspective as she takes over for Jamie Zaninovich, who left to become deputy commissioner of the Pac-12.
The conference is well-positioned following the successful recent additions of BYU and Pacific to form a 10-team league, a television contract with ESPN that provides needed money and exposure and success in men’s basketball and other sports.
The WCC has had multiple teams make the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for four of the past five seasons and has three of the 15 winningest programs over the past five seasons with Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s.
The conference also got four women’s teams into the round of 16 in NCAA championships and joined the American Athletic Conference and Big East as the only leagues outside of the so-called Big Five conferences to get multiple postseason bids in seven different sports.
“There’s been some of the concern or trepidation from conferences like ours, our peer conferences that aren’t football conferences, about what does this changing landscape mean,” Holzman said. “There are a lot of unknowns right now, a lot of skepticism. There is a lot of uneasiness or unrest about what the future holds.”
Much of that will be determined by outside forces, whether it’s a judge who will decide whether players can be paid for the use of their names, images or likeness, or the Big Five football conferences, who could be allowed to give more money to athletes to cover the full cost of attending school, as well as guarantee scholarships and offer increased medical benefits.
While conference leaders have discussed these issues, much of their most recent meeting was spent dealing with the search for the new commissioner. The schools will try to reach a consensus on these issues at their upcoming fall meetings when they hope to have a better idea of what changes are coming.
“We’re on the outside looking in and then we have to be poised and ready to react to what options are there,” she said. “Will we continue to play in that financial landscape? The cost of attendance is a primary issue right now.”
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