SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said if the Power Five conferences — which also include the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — don’t get the flexibility needed to create their own bylaws, the next step would be to move to “Division IV.”
“It’s not something we want to do,” Slive said on the final day of the SEC meetings. “We want the ability to have autonomy in areas that has a nexus to the well-being of student athletes. I am somewhat optimistic it will pass, but if it doesn’t, our league would certainly want to move to a Division IV. My colleagues, I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t feel the same way.”
You don’t say things like that if the move towards autonomy is going smoothly. You probably don’t get all grandiose about your ambitions, either.
“We hope everyone realizes we are moving into a new era and this is the way to retain your collegiate model. It would be a disappointment, and in my view a mistake, not to adapt the model. This is a historic moment. If we don’t seize the moment, we’ll make a mistake.”
Who’s this “we” you’re talking about, Commish? Let University of Florida President Bernie Machen explain.
“We’re in a squeeze here,” Machen said. “There are now six lawsuits that name our conference in them that specifically have to do with the whole cost of attendance and stuff like that. We would like to make changes, but we can’t because the NCAA doesn’t allow us to. We’re really caught between a rock and a hard play. We desperately would like some flexibility.”
Problem is, the little guys are worried about the hard play, too. Just ask ’em.
Like several other commissioners outside the Power 5, however, Aresco has questions about whether some of the areas initially included under the autonomy banner instead belong to all 32 conferences in Division I.
And one of those issues in particular — transfer rules — could very well be a fulcrum for how much power the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 are allowed to grab.
Last week, when Pac-12 presidents outlined their plan for reform in a letter to the other 53 presidents of power conference schools, one of the 10 bullet points was to “liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.”
What that liberalization encompasses, however, was left vague — perhaps intentionally. Even the power conference schools themselves aren’t sure how far to take it.
But the proverbial line in the sand could be drawn if the Power 5 want to loosen the rules so much that athletes wouldn’t have to sit out a year if they transfer.
Schools in the American or Mountain West see the possibility of de facto free agency as a major threat, where an Alabama or Texas could theoretically try to fill a hole on their roster by simply poaching a player who excelled in a less prestigious conference.
Now free agency would cut both ways. As I mentioned before, there would be nothing stopping a Sun Belt school from trying to entice a kid warming the bench at Alabama to jump ship. But if this sort of recruiting turns into an ongoing venture, who’s better equipped to manage it? To put it another way, how many advisors do you think Nick Saban would bring on board to handle mid-majors recruiting?
So it’s understandable if the middies are reluctant to sign on to something they worry they’ll get steamrolled over. But Slive’s message is that it’s a futile concern, because one way or another, the Big Five are going to get what’s coming to them. And if that’s not clear enough,
… Machen envisions rough waters ahead if things don’t change.
“The whole thing could go up in smoke if the lawsuits come down or with the unionization rule,” he said. “So the whole intercollegiate model is at risk if we don’t do something. If they don’t want to do this, it seems to me it’s incumbent upon them to come up with something else that will help us get out us this box.”
My bet is they throw in the towel in August when the NCAA board of directors votes on the steering committee’s proposal. Really, what choice do they have?