Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud is part of a “think tank” looking for solutions to foundational problems with college sports, including the possibility of private equity groups investing in athletics.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported on the possibility of private equity coming to college sports on Friday, noting Syverud’s involvement with a group of people that include search firm executive Len Perna, David Blitzer, a Blackstone executive, co-managing partner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils and prominent sports investor, former Major League Soccer president Mark Abbott and other university leaders.

The group is one of many that are trying to re-imagine college sports in a world where many of the rules traditionally enforced by schools have been struck down by courts and the importance of money has continued to grow.

College leaders are looking to figure out how to balance high-profile sports led by football with Olympic sports which generate little revenue, as the potential for unionized athletes and revenue sharing continue to grow.

“It’s been obvious the whole college sports system has been a dead man walking for three years, driven by legal developments,” Syverud told ESPN. “What’s going to come out of it is the thing that hasn’t been clear. The current system can’t continue, it’s a dead man walking.”

College leaders have asked for the help of congress to allow them to create rules that will make re-shaping college sports easier but, to this point, politicians have been more unsuccessful than college presidents in creating positive change.

Perna is the CEO of TurnkeyZRG, a popular search firm used by schools and leaders in college sports. The firm was part of the search for ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, which Syverud led on behalf of the conference.

“The current rubric isn’t academically tenable, nor affordable, nor even logical,” Perna said in a statement to ESPN. “It’s worth the time to explore what alternative models could work better for student-athletes, schools, media partners, fans, etc.”

The start of Phillips’ tenure with the ACC has seen the league’s on-field success overshadowed by the public effort of Florida State, one of the conference’s biggest brands, to leave the league in hopes that it can join a league that offers more television revenue.

During the process, Florida State has openly declared a desire to leave the ACC, and the conference and school have sued each other. Many of the conference’s other top athletic brands appear to be waiting to see if Florida State is able to leave, potentially allowing them to follow suit.

The possibility of the country’s most prominent athletic programs further coalescing in the Big Ten and SEC would increase financial discrepancies and make it more difficult for all but a select few schools to compete meaningfully for national championships in football and, perhaps, the rest of the sports as well.

“There’s more than 100 universities with fine football teams and histories, and the Hunger Games is going to hurt a majority of them very seriously, and whole states and regions,” Syverud said. “Unless we come up with a decision that’s fair to marquee programs and enables others to participate and [improve].”

The potential of Florida State to partner with private equity firms, which would potentially provide the school the money it needs to part ways with the ACC, has been one of the most prominent ways the idea of outside investment in college sports has been discussed.

Syverud noted that he has no objections to exploring ways that private equity can re-shape college athletics.

“I don’t have a philosophical objection to almost anyone who wants to be part of the solution or can be a part of the solution,” Syverud told ESPN. “That includes legislators, that includes NIL boosters, private equity and it includes college presidents and athletic directors.

“I don’t look at private equity as perfect or evil. I think we have to look at all the different pieces of the problem. There’s a significant financial piece to this.”

Thamel wrote that the think tank that Syverud is involved in is “very much in the thinking phase” when it comes to starting to re-shape college sports.

Said Syverud: “Let’s come up with the best we can and see what happens. Otherwise the dead man walking is going to produce something crazy.”

Contact Chris Carlson anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-382-7932

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