The NCAA took its first step toward changing the way it operates Thursday, with its board of directors approving proposed autonomy for the “Power Five” conferences by a 16-2 margin.
There aren’t any immediate repercussions for schools like Louisiana-Lafayette, but it could present larger challenges for smaller schools’ ability to keep the competitive gap with the 65 power-conference schools at a reasonable distance.
For now, the Sun Belt is playing ball.
“While there will be challenges ahead, our universities are committed to the continued academic success of our student-athletes along with providing the necessary benefits to protect their overall health and welfare,” SBC Commissioner Karl Benson said. “The SBC looks forward to continuing to play a prominent role within the new NCAA governance as one of the 10 FBS conferences.”
Schools outside the Power Five have 60 days to veto the new governance structure, though it doesn’t look likely that they will achieve the necessary number of vetoes (75) to force the board to reconsider.
The change in the governance model for the Power Five schools is intended to benefit student-athletes. Previously, the major sticking point in compensating players commensurate to their value was that smaller schools could not afford what larger schools could.
If the Power Five conferences were able to play by their own rules, as the proposed governance model would allow to some extent, they could give players more than what they’re getting now.
The proposed autonomy doesn’t call for an outright salary for players, but could call for a stipend to cover the cost of tuition, medical benefits and perhaps looser regulations on player-agent relations.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said the approval of the new governance model “represents a compromise on all sides that will better serve our members and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”
The term “compromise” is where it starts to get sticky, however. Teams from the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, or the Group of Five, would be able to adopt the Power Five’s rules as their own if they choose. But if the smaller schools are not able to financially support athletes in ways the Power Five would be, it would create a larger disadvantage for small schools in recruiting.
One of the main draws for a Group of Five school is that it affords a player an education — equal footing between the larger and smaller schools under the current model — while also giving that player a chance to compete for more playing time than he might be able to achieve at one of the Power Five schools. If the small schools are unable to offer the financial backing that the larger schools have, this further tips the balance in the large school’s favor.
Sun Belt schools are able to adopt the updated Power Five governance if they choose to, but must be prepared to inherit a larger financial commitment to stay competitive.
But as Benson said at SBC media days, the Sun Belt is less interested in the economic gap than the competitive gap. While the economic gap might, in this case, have an impact on the competitive gap, the Power Five is not in complete control of the rules.
Under the proposed structure, the Power Five schools would not be able to alter rules like increased scholarship limits and transfer eligibility on their own. Those issues would be decided by the Council, a new governing body that includes athletes as well as school administrators. The votes in the council are weighted so that Power Five conference votes are weighted twice those of the other five FBS conferences.
Scholarship limits are one of the main sticking points. If the limit is raised to 95, as some have suggested, that opens up another 650 players for the Power Five conferences — and potentially takes 650 players out of the pool for the Group of Five.