Yesterday, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted in favor of granting autonomy to the so-called Power Five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC). The result of the vote was expected. But the vote itself -- while a positive step -- was not the only step on the road to autonomy. Below, we take a quick look at some of the hurdles and questions that remain in the Power Five's power play.
For full details on all of the remaining hoops that must be jumped through, check out this USA Today piece by Dan Wolken from earlier in the week. Just to keep things simple for you, know that it only takes 75 of the 351 Division I schools -- more than 200 of which don't play FBS football and don't make Power Five money -- to veto the Board of Directors' vote at some point during the next 60 days. That could throw the whole thing back into the review process, despite the fact that the board "overwhelmingly" approved the measure.
If 125 schools decide to veto yesterday's vote, the autonomy proposal would be ix-nayed altogether. No review; start from scratch. If that happens -- and it could -- we're right back to political brinksmanship. The non-Power Five schools will have called the Power Five schools' bluff and it would be up to those universities to carry through on their threats of creating a new Division IV either within the NCAA or outside of it.
But even if the Board of Directors' vote holds up, there are still issues the Power Five schools must work out, as Wolken points out:
"In a matter of months, the Power 5 will have to decide on their process for introducing new legislation, a nomination and vetting process for members of the various committees associated with the new governance structure – including three athletes per conference with voting power on autonomous issues – and drafting a realistic agenda that can be considered in January at the NCAA convention. Any new legislation would then likely take effect for the 2015-16 academic year."
In other words, this isn't over yet.
Once the Power Five schools get their way by a Division I membership vote or by breaking away, the next issue will be determining what rules change and how they change. The Power Five commissioners have been talking about full-cost-of-tuition scholarships. But will all 65 schools have the same view of what exactly that constitutes? Does cost of living play a role, allowing a school like Rutgers to provide more extra cash than a rural Southern school like Auburn or Mississippi State?
The type of medical insurance provided will be hotly debated as well. It's not hard to imagine Power Five schools and conferences attempting to one-up each other in an effort to aid recruiting.
Which athletes will reap the benefits?
Once more assuming that the Power Five conferences will attain their autonomy either by hook or by crook, which student-athletes benefit from the change will be a big, big question. Most conference commissioners, university presidents and coaches have kept the focus on either football players or student-athletes who play revenue-producing sports (which basically just adds men's basketball to football). The schools will have to decide if those football and basketball players are the only ones who'll receive full-cost-of-tuition scholarships, medical insurance, a voice in school athletics, and so on. Or, might the athletes in revenue-producing sports just get the edge in scholarship money while all the athletes on campus receive better medical coverage, etc? Once the schools determine who gets what, expect lawsuits to follow. If female student-athletes are left out of the equation, someone will claim that the spirit of Title IX has been violated. If only athletes in revenue sports receive extra aid, some athletes from non-revenue sports will eventually challenge the situation. We've already seen Northwestern's football players vote on a unionization proposal. Again, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that somewhere down the line, some non-revenue student-athletes will band together and threaten boycotts of events if they're not treated like athletes from the revenue sports.
Who will try to keep up?
While the above topics are all important, this one might be the most interesting. Again, let's say the Power Five schools get what they want. Can anyone angle their way into a, let's say, "Power Six?" The American Athletic Conference certainly wants to. Commissioner Mike Aresco has said for weeks that his league's schools have resources and want to be part of the autonomy club. In a statement yesterday, Aresco made it sound as though his conference will attempt to follow suit. But the NCAA Board of Directors' vote only granted autonomy to "the five highest-resource conferences."
Obviously, the Power Five conferences want to remain an exclusive club. As soon as the Big East morphed into the weaker AAC, the AAC had to turn in its membership card and smoking jacket. The smaller the group of power schools, the more money and power for those schools. Thus the AAC getting tossed to the curb. (The ACC with less revenue than the other Power Five leagues and the Big 12 with only 10 members might want to study the AAC's situation long and hard.)
What happens, however, if the AAC somehow balloons in revenue and resources? UConn is the premier basketball program in the country at the moment with three national crowns since 2004. UCF bested Baylor in last season's Fiesta Bowl. Cincinnati and Houston have had success in both football and men's basketball over the years. No, it's not likely that the AAC will rocket past a Power Five conference in terms of cashflow, but it is theoretically possible. And if that were to occur, would the league be able to convince the NCAA's board and all of the other Division I schools that it, too, should be allowed to hand out full-cost-of-tuition scholarships? Could a school like BYU, for example, push to keep up with the Joneses all by its lonesome?
There's also the possibility that some of the non-Power Five teams mentioned above might talk their way into a current Power Five league. UConn, UCF, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, and other schools with large athletic budgets... all might push for inclusion in a conference looking to solidify its power base. Depending on the voting structure put in place within the autonomous conferences, leagues with more members might just hold more sway over all Power Five decisions. At some point, then, the 10-team Big 12 might look to add two to four more teams. While expanding could hurt Big 12 schools' bottom line in the short-term, having more say in future rule changes might provide greater benefits long-term.
The bottom line to all of this is a simple one -- Yesterday's vote by the NCAA Board of Directors has set the stage for massive changes to the college athletics model as we've known it. But there are still plenty of hoops to jump through before autonomy is truly realized and plenty of questions to be answered once the Power Five conference do receive the power they seek.