The retreat took place a few days before news broke of a scandal involving the University of Miami football program and a renegade football booster, which threatens to shut down the program.
Romesburg talked this week to the Times-Union's Jeff Elliott about the problems facing college sports, the idea of stipends for players, a playoff system and how football success has lifted JU athletics.
Excerpts from that interview:
What's your thought about the situation at Miami?
I would guess there isn't a president in Division I that isn't disheartened by it. This isn't one of those things where you're snickering and saying, 'Look what happened to them.' Right now, it's all alleged. But if it turns out much of any of it is true, it's an embarrassment for all of college sports. It goes against the theme of the presidents' meeting we just had. This is the type of thing that can rock that entire program. It can have ramifications throughout the entire university, and they can go very high at that institution if it turns out to be true. It's a sad thing.
There seems to be an increasing number of Division I schools that have committed violations of some nature in recent years. Do you see this as a trend and a reason for concern?
The concern is that the potential reward for some of those programs is so great that the individuals involved are willing to take the risk. Somehow, we've got to change that, we meaning the NCAA and the presidents in Division I. The salary levels we pay individuals and what it means to them, there is so much money around, that individuals are willing to take risks. The penalties are going to have to be much more strongly enforced and much more rapidly enforced.
One line of thought is there are too many rules, that the NCAA handbook on infractions is too thick. Is this a concern?
One of the things we're talking about doing is getting rid of a lot of the rules at the NCAA level. The rules that are kept, we're saying that these are the infractions that rise to the level of national concern. Those [are the] rules we're going to monitor and give teeth to the staff to monitor at the NCAA level. And then we're going to have severe, severe penalties attached to them.
Was there discussion of providing stipends to athletes?
We did talk about what conferences will agree to give an athlete to come to school. I'm not talking about play for pay. Nobody would buy into that. But there are some conferences that have a lot of money who are saying they have the ability to help athletes more. There's an argument that students don't have money for incidentals, and they don't have the ability to work because we require them essentially to be year-round athletes. There will likely be a proposal that conferences that can afford to do so can offer a little more than the full ride that we offer now. I don't think that will have any impact on us because our conference would say, no thanks, because nobody could afford it.
But wouldn't that give those conferences an unfair advantage over others?
That's what the whole debate is about, that this would give some schools an unfair advantage. Some would say that if you give an athlete $3,000 or $4,000 a year, that's going to give a school an unfair advantage. But my answer is you're not competitive with them right now.
How would you summarize the two-day retreat in Indianapolis?
It's the best meeting in 30 years for me that I've attended. ... We had everybody participating, from the schools that have non-scholarship football, to the schools that have no football to the major conferences. We were all there, 60 of us sitting in the same room for a day and a half. We got through a lot of material, but I think we made real progress in terms of changes to the academic requirements for athletes, changes in the ways we can handle those athletes, huge changes in terms of how enforcement is going to be done. That's the one that's going to take the longest because somebody has to go through that incredible rules book.
Did the likelihood of a football playoff format come up?
Absolutely, and it was a very quick discussion. The bowl system is so profitable, so lucrative, that it's just not going to change anytime soon. I know Congress has talked about it and everyone else. We brought it up and took it off the table immediately and said this is something that is not going to be addressed anytime soon. With the bowl system, it can't be touched. We talked about it because it's a concern, and we moved on because we wanted to deal with the things that we think we can impact and impact now, and that's not one of them.
But what about all the fans who are clamoring for a bowl playoff system?
Those same fans are still packing the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, you name it. Were they not, people might listen. There's just no incentive to change it. We just didn't spend a lot of time on this at all.
What has been the effect of the success that Jacksonville University has enjoyed in athletics in recent years?
It's almost impossible to state the impact that athletics can have on an institution. JU has enjoyed inordinate success athletically in almost every sport the last few years [10-1 in football last season]. It's had an impact on us in recruiting new students in general, our relationship with our alumni in terms of getting them back involved with the institution and a big impact with donors. We've got a lot of fans around the country, and we don't know about them until we have success and then we start hearing from them again, and that's pretty nice. Success breeds success, no question.
Are there risks involved from such success?
Yes. Unfortunately at the higher levels, the rewards are so high, it causes people to take unnecessary risks. We're not in that kind of game. The rewards aren't worth the risk at our level, at the mid-major level, so hopefully we don't have those kinds of problems.
Could JU be headed toward awarding scholarships in football?
I can't answer that yes or no. It's too complex of an answer. I will say that it costs too much for us to do it right now. For us to move into scholarship football because of the rules for gender equity, we would not only have to be able to fund the scholarship program year in and year out, we would also have to fund a similar amount for women's athletics.
And we simply can't afford it right now. If we had some major donors that came forward and helped us, then something like that could be possible. It's simply economics. We need a stadium, our stadium is quaint. We would need a stadium where the fan base would generate revenue.
The revenue we get right now is diminutive. With a stadium, you could start getting money back into the program. There are some positives to it, but it's simply too expensive right now.
As a non-scholarship program in football, how closely do you have to monitor the program to make sure there are no violations or irregularities taking place?
We have to monitor it the same as every other sport.
Now there's some things that we don't have to worry so much about, like are you promising them money [laughing]. But in terms of when they contact athletes, recruiting trips, not to mention are the students academically eligible, random drug-testing, we monitor that very closely, just like we do in all our programs.