For the past few weeks, I’ve been banging the drum about the dangers of giving autonomy to the Power-5 conferences, particularly where college football is concerned.
The Power-5 conferences — SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Notre Dame — are heading into uncharted waters, and there are problems that will have to be addressed. Everything from the possibility for corruption, to certain teams being screwed, to how this will play into the strength of schedule – there are all kinds of pitfalls involved with letting these rich and powerful school govern themselves.
Well, its time to take the kid gloves off.
Let’s call a spade a spade, and stop dancing around what a lot of people are probably thinking anyway.
Autonomy for the Power-5 is just a bad idea.
Yeah, it will have some desirable side effects, such as the eventual crumbling of the NCAA, but that was probably going to happen anyway. The decision to give autonomy to the Power-5 will only help speed up that inevitable ending.
In the meantime, however, the ramifications this will have on college football (and other sports as well, but lets face it, football is where the real cabbage is made), could be damaging in ways that are irreversible. When the rich and powerful are allowed to become more rich and powerful, and to do it — for all intents and purposes — unchecked, disaster looms for those not included in their ranks.
In other words, for those of you not lucky enough to dwell in the elite ranks of the Power-5….winter is coming.
The basic concept behind the NCAA was that everyone was playing by the same rules, and that the playing field was…well, it was never going to be level, but at least it was close. Smaller schools who were already at a disadvantage still had a chance, and could at least dip their beaks in the water of the river of cash that flowed to the coffers of the mighty.
The problem was that the NCAA was trying to wrangle jello, and the more they tried to exert their will, the more things got out of hand and the more ridiculous rules began to be applied.
Instead of turning a blind eye to certain ongoing problems that really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, the NCAA wanted to enforce far too many rules that simply had no bearing on the task with which they were charged – to protect the student-athletes, and to keep schools from gaining an unfair advantage by deceptive practices.
Once things reached a tilting point, there was no turning back. Nobody, not even the small schools and conferences, trusted the NCAA, and the only ones with the ability to do anything about it were the Power-5. But instead of using their muscle and influence to help everyone, they opted to circle their own wagons and leave everyone else to fend for themselves.
The continued threats by the Power-5 to break off and form their own league apart from the NCAA finally came to a head, leading to the NCAA granting autonomy for them to take care of their own problems.
Financially, this is going to be the ruin of many small football programs in the country. There has already been talk of the University of Hawaii having to shut down their football program, and this break-off by the Power-5 may only exasperate that situation.
The combination of these major conferences being able make their own rules in regards to stipends, insurance benefits for players, staff sizes, and recruiting rules – along with the new College Football Playoff – will bring a quick end to a lot of programs, and will eventually turn college football into (essentially) a semi-professional league.
The Power-5 schools are going to stop scheduling FCS opponents, and teams from weaker FBS schools. Those small schools absolutely count on the millions of dollars they receive in return for a humiliating beatdown (or from time to time a legendary upset) to keep their programs afloat.
Teams that are on the fringe of being one of the big players from other conferences are going to abandon ship, and find homes in the Power-5, leaving the rest of the conference to suffer and eventually disband. Rivalries will be killed off, and small but storied programs will become a part of history.
If you think this is overstated, then consider this fact.
Since the final NCAA reorganization in 1981, every school that was playing Division I (FBS) football in 1982, and now no longer is, dropped football rather than downgrading to the FCS level. The reality is that if these football programs can’t earn TV dollars, or get take part in the revenue share from the bigger conferences, then they won’t downgrade…they’ll disappear.
Recruiting will more than likely turn into an even bigger circus than it already is, and the only ones who will suffer will be the young high school athletes whose talents turn into dollar signs in the eyes of the Power-5. Increased stipends will turn into monthly allowances, and inevitably into large cash paydays for these kids. And if your school can’t offer enough “perks” then you’ll be on the outside looking in at any top recruit.
If you think these young, impressionable kids are finding their way into unnecessary trouble now, just wait until they have cash to blow whenever they need it, or the keys to a shiny new sports car. The student-athlete will evolve into the “athlete representing school X”.
The Power-5 conferences are like big oil, big pharma, big banking, big food and the federal reserve. They’ll gather and decide how to split the wealth of the college football world between them, and will take no prisoners in doing so.
Even if the AAC, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and independents (other than Notre Dame) banded together to form their own super-conference, they’d still be no match for the money and might of the Power-5. And the FCS? Well, as the money that was filtered in from the Power-5 eventually dries up, the FCS is likely to become a much smaller group of schools in the not so distant future.
The worst part of it all is that the excitement of unpredictability — the Appalachian State beating Michigan, or North Dakota State beating Kansas State — will be a thing of the past. College football will become strangely familiar, and the powerful will only play the powerful.
The hubris that is being spewed by the commissioners of the Power-5, on how their problems are so much more important and complex than those of other conferences, is nothing more than prideful renouncement of everyone who doesn’t fit their mold. And in the end, as far as college football is concerned, it will change a beloved part of the American fabric and turn it into yet another cash-first corporation.
More’s the pity.