College Football Gets 12th Game

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005

Over the objections of advocates of academic reform, the ACC and college football coaches, the NCAA Board of Directors voted yesterday to add a 12th regular season game in major college football starting in 2006.

For teams in conferences that stage a season-ending championship (the Big 12, Southeastern and, starting next season, the ACC), the extra game means that several squads soon will play 14 games per season (12 regular season, one conference title game and one bowl game).

The prospect of extending the season had raised the concerns of the reform-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which urged NCAA officials to reject the 12th game until the impact of rigorous new academic standards had become clear. ACC officials unanimously opposed it, arguing that an 11-game season was sufficient for college students. The American Football Coaches Association also lobbied against it, fearing the physical toll it would take on their squads.

But with millions of dollars of untapped revenue at stake, NCAA board members met behind closed doors yesterday and voted, 8-2 with one abstention, in favor of adding a 12th game.

For football powers such as Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee, which play in 100,000-seat stadiums that dwarf the typical NFL venue, an extra home game could mean more than $3 million per year in additional revenue.

Kansas Chancellor Bob Hemenway, chairman of the NCAA directors, said in a conference call after the vote that "there were a number of issues" that argued in favor of extending the schedule. "It was not just money," Hemenway said.

Hemenway played down concerns about the effect that a 12th regular season game would have on football players' academic work, pointing out that the season wasn't being extended. Instead, he noted, the customary "bye" week would be done away with.

"You're not really taking the student-athlete away from classroom time or the normal kinds of studying they would do," Hemenway said.

NCAA President Myles Brand noted that most football players wanted to play an extra game and that fans wanted to see one. Brand refused to discuss the NCAA's apparent mixed signals regarding football: Adding a regular season game after consistently ruling out a playoff on the grounds that it would extend the season and hinder academic pursuits.

"I seriously suggest you talk up the championship or tournament issue with the BCS [Bowl Championship Series] folks, because they're the ones that make the decision," Brand said when asked about the apparent dissonance.

Brand dismissed the notion that an extra game would detract from players' studies. During the two years in which a 12th game was played on a trial basis, Brand pointed out, athletes' graduation rates actually increased. Those statistics, however, reflected graduation rates for athletes who had entered school six years prior.

Nothing Brand or Hemenway said proved persuasive to those who had lobbied hardest against extending the season.

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