In a previous post I said there were a couple themes running through every major conference media day. The other theme was the idea of the major conferences sort of splitting off from the rest of the 1-A.
They wouldn’t leave the NCAA. Oh, heavens no. They want that protection. They want to give their fans, media, and the courts that pinata to pin all the blame on when trouble hits. But they want to have a different division that appreciates their unique status.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said Monday the next six months are “very important” to the future of the NCAA and predicted that significant structural and governance changes could be implemented at the governing body’s annual convention in January.
Among the changes up for discussion would be the formation of a so-called “super division” that would allow athletic departments with high-revenue football programs to make some of their own rules and implement things like athlete stipends. Many of those initiatives have been blocked by lower-revenue programs, which make up the majority of the NCAA.
But again, this isn’t about breaking from the NCAA. The college presidents — even the ones at schools raking in the cash — would never go for that. Slive put it out as the nuclear option, but Swofford is more realistic.
“That’s a potential way of making a change that would basically retain the fundamental NCAA oversight and umbrella, if you will,” Swofford said. “If the five conferences were to break off, I mean, that’s a complicated move. You’d have to, in essence, duplicate the NCAA in some form or fashion, and then what does that mean for intercollegiate athletics? So if you’ve got another division, if that’s the answer within the NCAA, you can maneuver and find an appropriate way, I think, to address those kinds of issues.”
It makes sense and it isn’t as much of a threat as it is reality. The big conference schools want to be able to add Cost of Attendance (COA) stipends — which all the lower-tiered schools fought back and prevented. There are other issues, but that’s the familiar one. For a school in the MAC — that would be a financial killer.
The question would be difficult for programs in the American and Mountain West. They aspire to be with the big boys — or at least hold out hope to be called upon to join (UConn, Cinci, USF, UCF, Boise, SD St., etc.). But given the vast difference in TV money, can they afford to be a part of the “Division 4”?
UNC’s AD Bubba Cunningham made an interesting (and self-serving) suggestion for anyone who wants to be part of the D4. That all member schools have at least 24 sports in the athletic department, as opposed to the present minimum of D1 of 14. UNC sponsors 28 sports so they have no worries.
The rest of the 5 conferences? I’ll go out on a limb and predict that will be a non-starter.
Nationwide, the 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences are each sponsoring about 20 sports. But they are not evenly distributed by conference. Here are the medians for each of the Power 5 conferences:
- Big Ten: 24
- ACC: 23
- SEC: 20
- Pac-12: 19.5
- Big 12: 18
That gives us a rough approximation, but a better measure is how many schools have fewer than 24 teams and how many total each conference will need to add. Here are the conferences sorted by the average number of teams institutions below 24 would need to add:
- Big 12: 10 institutions, 56 teams (5.6 avg)
- Pac-12: 9 institutions, 45 teams (5.0 avg)
- SEC: 14 institutions, 59 teams (4.21 avg)
- ACC: 10 institutions, 41 teams (4.1 avg)
- Big Ten: 6 institutions, 18 teams (3.0 avg)
Every single Big 12 and SEC institution would have to add teams. Most of the Pac-12 and ACC would have to increase their offerings as well, at a clip comparable to the Big 12 and SEC. Meanwhile, the Big Ten seems to have a substantial leg up on the rest of the country on this front.
49 of the 65 schools would need to add at least one more sport. Pitt is on the lower end with only 19 sports sponsored. Adding 5 more sports would be a costly undertaking. Frankly, despite the nice average numbers the ACC would probably not go for it. Six of the member schools would need to add 5 or more sports. Chalk this idea up to being DOA.
Still, with regards to a Division 4, there is a sense that the major conferences will make this happen in the next year. The enforcement headaches are another aspect that will encourage it.
That said, don’t expect the lower revenue Division 1 schools to like this and roll over on it. You think there are haves and have nots now? It just gets worse. That cost of attendance stipend would be a killer. I mean the MAC has enough problems with Pitt taking players they recruit. It would be that much harder if Pitt could offer a COA stipend as well.
Forget the football side for a moment.
Think basketball. Think about the kids who for whatever reason chose a mid-major. Say, a Zeke Marshall, who opted for Akron over Pitt and others. Does a kid turn down the extra money from a major conference just because he can get more playing time earlier and the particular major that Akron offered?
Heck, what does a conference like the Big East do? They are D1, but basketball only. Think how their recruiting suffers if they can’t offer the full cost of attendance stipend.
I’m sure the basketball-only schools and non-power conference schools find the Big 5 a bit of a bully and trying to force things on them. But they will not willingly let them split into another division and further minimize them.
This seems to be coming, though. With all the conference commissioners talking publicly about it, this is just a matter of time.