Northeastern AD Roby stands out at uninspiring NCAA Convention

Friday January 17th, 2014

Northeastern University athletic director Peter Roby was one of the few voices of reason at the NCAA Convention in San Diego on Thursday.
Courtesy of Northeastern University

SAN DIEGO -- For months, the NCAA Convention here was billed as a potentially transformative time for the beleaguered organization. And when the big moment finally arrived on Thursday afternoon, the ballyhooed unveiling of the NCAA's potential new governance was greeted with shrugs, eye rolls and confusion.

Thankfully, Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby provided clarity amid the jargon, common sense amid the confusion. And he did so by blasting Louisville's hire of Bobby Petrino -- the elephant in the neck brace, if you will -- shocking some of his risk-averse colleagues by, you know, actually saying something completely obvious.

In the NCAA's 14-page proposal for its supposedly revolutionary restructuring, it managed to completely ignore the two factors driving the relevant institutions in the organization -- winning and revenue.

MANDEL: ADs express frustration over proposed 'change' at NCAA convention

Amid all the rhetoric about such riveting topics as "competency based practitioner groups," one voice hammered the main catalysts of college sports. Among the 800 college sports leaders gathered, Roby won the MVP for intellect and honesty. He spoke to the gaps in revenue and ethics that are widening between the so-called "haves" and "have nots" in college sports. Lines that are becoming more distinct as the so-called Big Five are getting more autonomy to make their own rules.

Roby called for a new distribution model for NCAA tournament revenue, which is a vital lifeline to conferences outside the Big Five. And he took Louisville officials to task for hiring Petrino earlier this month. At Petrino's previous job at Arkansas, he got fired after having an affair, hiring his mistress and then lying to his bosses about the whole sordid mess. (In the most precious moment of that debacle, Petrino showed up at a press conference in a neck brace.)

In his comments, Roby didn't address Petrino and Louisville specifically when mentioning ethics among power schools. But everyone knew what he was talking about. To Roby's credit, he didn't hesitate to expound on the Petrino hire afterward when asked by

"We keep telling (coaches that) they have to be men of integrity and character," Roby said. "Yet (Petrino) gets another opportunity and is going to make $3.5 million. It's like he didn't pay any price for all the embarrassments he caused to the institutions where he was at, to his family, to the NCAA and to the member schools. We all get painted with that brush."

Roby didn't finish there. Before taking over as athletic director, Roby served as the director of Northeastern's center for Sport in Society, a program that focuses on using the power of sport to create positive social change. Roby developed a reputation for not being afraid to call out hypocrites and frauds in sport at any level. And surrounded by hundreds of his colleagues who'd never dare rip the ethics of the hire on the record, Roby did what's done too infrequently today amid the spineless leaders of college sports. He spoke his mind.

Amid all the scams, conflicts and con men that drive and define college sports, it's remarkably refreshing to hear someone actually have the guts to call them out.

"That's leadership in my opinion," Roby said. "Someone has to step up and say, 'Why is that happening?'"

He added about the Petrino hire: "What does that have to do with education? What does that have to do with leadership? We're supposed to be leaders of young men. What messages does it send to the rest of the people on the campus?"

The most concise way to sum up all the hype and hope that surrounded this NCAA Convention is to focus on the bottom-line reality of potential change.

Hours of meetings and conversation can be best boiled down to this simple quote by Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, who was asked what changes average sports fans will see. "You probably won't see much change," Hatch said.

One potentially significant takeaway from this week will be that the rich will continue to get richer, and the financial gap between the Big Five and the field could well turn into a canyon. Roby spoke eloquently about the "notion of competitive opportunity" turning into another factor to "exacerbate the differences" between Northeastern and, say, Northwestern.

Northeastern cut the school's 74-year old football program in 2009, with the prevailing feeling that the program couldn't continue to compete at a high level. He'd like sports like hockey and basketball at Northeastern to be able to compete nationally without jeopardizing the opportunity of other sports on campus.

"The best way to look at is to re-look at the distribution models for the basketball tournament," Roby said. "There's going to be plenty of money for the autonomous five in the football revenues and the TV revenues they're already generating."

That idea sure makes a lot of sense, as it won't level the playing field as much as give mid-major schools a puncher's chance. Cinderella, after all, still needs to eat. But this wasn't a day for common sense.

It was more like a Seinfeld episode. Despite all the talk, hope and discussion, it appeared to be about nothing of particular impact.

"There's a lot of people concerned," Roby said, "about whether there's real substance here."

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