Welp, they’ve up and done it.
The NCAA Division I board of directors on Thursday voted to allow the 65 schools in the top five conferences to write many of their own rules. The autonomy measures — which the power conferences had all but demanded — will permit those leagues to decide on things such as cost-of-attendance stipends and insurance benefits for players, staff sizes, recruiting rules and mandatory hours spent on individual sports.
The Power Five (the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) could begin submitting their own legislation by Oct. 1 and have it enacted at the January 2015 NCAA convention in Washington, D.C.
In a remarkably pessimistic piece, John Infante says it’s the beginning of the end of Division I.
Sooner rather than later, Division I will be gone. NCAA governance reforms have a short-shelf life and it would be shocking if this one sees the next decade before we hear agitation for the next logical step (a fourth NCAA division) or the next realistic one (separation of the power conferences from the NCAA). That day will be lamented as this end of Division I, but that will be like putting down an undead zombie. Today is the day that Division I as an idea, its soul, is well and truly dead.
I get his point. When you think about it, what’s the only thing holding D-I together right now? That’s right, March Madness revenue. That’s a pretty weak glue in an era when chasing down every last dollar counts. The big boys already don’t want to share football revenues with the little kids. What do you think will happen when they come to the same realization about basketball?
That is, if they’re allowed to. Infante makes another good point when he writes,
But that leaves Division I as simply a grouping of teams that play against each other. For some, that is enough. But college athletics is not simply a sports league, and it’s not a private business. It is a massive taxpayer-backed (when not explicitly taxpayer-funded) government program. The members of the NCAA are all either public universities, tax-exempt private universities, or for-profit universities heavily dependent on federal student-aid. A portion of every dollar that is guaranteed in a coaching contract or issued as debt by an athletic department might potentially be paid off by money that came from taxpayers. For that investment, we should demand more of our public institutions than simply playing games against each other.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) issued a statement Thursday saying the NCAA’s new model may warrant Congressional review from the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member.
“The NCAA should be responsible for promoting fair competition among its participating institutions and their student athletes,” Hatch said. “I am concerned that today’s actions could create an uneven playing field that may prevent some institutions from being able to compete fairly with other schools that have superior resources to pay for student athletes. I also worry about how this decision will affect a school’s Title IX requirements and whether this consolidation of power will restrict competition and warrant antitrust scrutiny.”
Hatch and other Congresscritters like Joe Barton were easy to mock during the Great BCS/Playoff debate because it was a foolish, mockable quest in which they were engaged. This go ’round is likely to be a very different animal, mainly because I’m convinced that sooner or later the NCAA is going to make a hard go at Congress to get an antitrust exemption. Not sharing involves a lot of heavy lifting. These guys have no idea what asking for help from the likes of Orrin Hatch involves.