College football has always been a battle of class: public vs private, Power Five vs. Group of Five, SEC vs. world. Membership always has its perks. Those 65 Power Fives schools annually share 78% of the half-billion annual revenue from the College Football League.
There is a growing mindset among the power schools, which is to wonder if they should share. What has quietly emerged in recent months is perhaps the largest class war in decades.
“Membership” was the buzzword when the NCAA rewrote its constitution. It will involve a further division of the 130 main playing fields-College football. Division IA, now known as the Football Division (FBS), was established in 1978. It was the last big hit of the haves and have-nots.
Basically, a breakup of the least-resourced programs in FBS can happen. The reason will be the same as it was 43 years ago: The tiniest shows have too much influence – votes and vice versa – on how a group of 80 or so schools want big football to look like.
“I think that discussion is going to happen,” a current Power Five athletic director told CBS Sports. “In FBS, yes. The revenue difference, just between FBS, is already huge. But from the Big Ten to the SEC to the smallest conferences in Division I, it’s not even apples and oranges.
“For lack of a better term, we have football problems.”
The problem is that the schools emphasize football at different levels. As it stands, there is little similarity between the resources (recruitment, salaries, TV contracts) of Georgia and Georgia Southern. However, they play under the same FBS banner.
“I think you will see its stratification or its dramatic change,” said Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock. “It’s just a lot of work in such a short period of time.”
The convergence of concerns is forcing this problem. The power brokers of the game must find a way to split the upcoming unprecedented cash flow. The coffers will be fuller than ever as the College Football League opens and more teleconference deals are renegotiated.
Many administrators believe that it is inevitable that athletes – especially football and basketball players – will eventually become employees of schools.
“How can Power Five legally give more money to their athletes? [That’s] What is the next step,” said Power Five AD.
FBS herd destruction has become more clearly focused since the NCAA decided to rewrite its constitution in August. The resulting Constitutional Convention concluded on Monday with broad concepts expected. will be added to the NCAA Convention in January. The constitutional changes are expected to be fully implemented by August 2022.
Implementation is another matter. The 20-person Transition Committee out of that convention is responsible for working out the details of how the NCAA set aside and let the divisions and conferences make their own decisions. Basically, it will allow them to run college sports their way.
The elephant in the room is a potential division of FBS. Which schools will make the cuts, and which will be relegated to what has long been known as “Division IV”? While a split of FBS is far from certain, it is more likely than at any time since the last major division in 1978.
“It’s not on the table yet, but that’s the first thing to ask,” said West Virginia AD Shane Lyons, a member of the Transition Committee. “With the Transition Committee members, what are we looking for? Is that a membership requirement? Is there a difference between schools that make $175 million and those that make it?” 4 million dollars.
“One of the first questions would be ‘What will this look like?'”
In general, rules and limits will almost certainly be liberalized. The NIL has turned what used to be a major NCAA violation into shrug.
It’s the minutiae that drive Power Five ADs crazy. They are frustrated that smaller schools have a voting influence on issues like staff size.
“Training limits… I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care,” Lyons said. “If you want eight coaches in baseball, hire eight. That’s between the coach, the AD, and the president. We are. [worry about it] all the time in football. We pay thousands of dollars to compliance officers to try to figure out what these people are doing on the sidelines or in reality.
“Does it really matter? Let them coach. Who cares? If Alabama wants 75 coaches, let them have 75 coaches. In West Virginia, we’ll have 20 coaches.”
The Transition Committee is co-chaired by SEC Commissioners Greg Sankey and AD Julie Cromer of Ohio. By its composition alone, the commission heralds a separation. Sankey is the head of the most powerful football convention in the country. Cromer is the AD of a MAC school, playing some of his games on weeknights to maximize visibility.
SEC schools will soon earn $60 million each in average annual media royalty fees. MAC’s current ESPN contract, which expires at the end of the 2026-27 season, is worth $100 million… in total.
“Anything with Sankey in it will give me an indication that the split is going to be bigger,” said one college sports consultant, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation. “Julie’s in Ohio, I really like Julie. She’s smart as hell. I’m going to see her and Sankey clash a lot. I doubt so, but Greg will win anyway because he can. . He has strength.”
With flexibility, that power comes with responsibility. Any of the 130 schools that don’t make the cut will lose enormous brand power. Joining FBS allows schools to fund athletics at the highest level, increase enrollment, and even attract faculty and grants.
The carelessness of this process hit for a few weeks this summer when it was leaked that Texas and Oklahoma had joined the SEC. Suddenly, it was realized that schools like Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Kansas (especially for basketball) could only call the Five-Piece Conference home. That fear was quickly allayed when the Big 12 had four teams, expanded to 12 and – by speculation – remained in Power Five status.
It is a signal to some that big college football will once again gather around the campfire of the biggest brands.
“We’ve lost two big brands,” said a Big 12 AD. “That would be like the Big Ten losing Michigan and Ohio State. Don’t take anything away, but Purdue doesn’t have that big of a brand. Indiana doesn’t have that big of a brand. If you do something like that, anchors, those are our two anchors. Every conference has them.”
A list of options has already been mentioned, ranging from “federation” of 30-60 teams to groups of 80-100 teams that will operate under the same rules. It will not be an exclusion of schools but a standard that they must meet.
At this time, NCAA Tournament and the members of the 351st I Division adding to its appeal would be unaffected. Schools from all three existing NCAA divisions (I, II, III) share $800 million in annual revenue from that event.
There are current minimum standards for FBS membership, including (to name just a few): sports sponsorship (16), minimum schedule requirements (60% games vs FBS, 5 games). matches or more at home) and average attendance (15,000). In theory, raising the minimum enrollment to 30,000 alone would cause 56 schools (43%) to lose their FBS membership based on the 2019 average.
Consider the top schools voting to increase their allocation to 95 football scholarships. (Current maximum is 85.) Students who cannot afford those 10 additional scholarships will be marketed and may end up in “Division IV”. The same goes for the idea of fully funded equivalent sports. Those sports include baseball and football, which can have multiple teams but split into a limited number of scholarships. (For example, the baseball teams of the I Division split 11.7 scholarships.)
What if those minor sports were fully funded with scholarships like “top number” sports like football? Conceivably it would force small schools to drop a notch because of increased financial obligations.
“Can you imagine if Georgia, in that hot spot of recruitment, basically had 100 scholarships?” asked that Power Five AD.
MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, whose conference is likely to be one of those affected by the higher costs of doing business, was unchallenged.
“I feel comfortable based on the conversations I’ve had between the FBS commissioners and with Greg Sankey,” he said. “I don’t think people should overreact or overreact to anything. Whatever the outcome, we’re in a good position. Deregulation is really fun to talk about abstraction but difficult to do in practice.”
There have long been rumors of the “separation” of power schools from the NCAA itself. This is not that. Last December, The Knight Commission recommends FBS is completely separate from the association.
With assemblies having broader powers, a new constitution would provide for a real subdivision. Back in 1978, Ivy League schools had the same voting rights as the Big Ten schools but didn’t emphasize football in the same way. Those Ivy League schools were eventually relegated to Division I-AA (FCS), which was able to sponsor its own playoffs. Division IA (FBS) still retains its lucrative system.
When that split occurred, the IA Division had 137 members with 43 in the I-AA Division. Today, those numbers are closer – 130 for FBS and 125 for FCS, although there will be some adjustments to those totals when this round of conference reorganization is complete.
Not surprisingly, J. Neils Thompson, a former Texas president, headed a committee that recommended segregation four-and-a-half decades ago.
“I don’t think it excludes anyone,” Lyons said of today’s thinking. “It just says, ‘This is the criterion.” If we go that route, here’s what happens to be in this certain group. “
“Power Five” and “Group of Five” are terms that evolved from usage by the media and college administrators around the time the Bowl Series Championship (BCS) was formed in 1998. The qualification standards for those BCS bowls created an informal boundary between the convention power (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC) and the smaller leagues. (Big West, Conference USA, Mid-American, WAC).
The Power Five currently includes the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC, while the Group of Five includes American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and the Sun Belt.
The old autonomous voting privileges were agreed for five power conferences at the 2014 NCAA Convention. At that time, enhanced voting privileges for the Power Five set the stage for the cost of attendance and NIL rights.
With the NCAA abdicating power under restructuring, the Power Five may be seeking a more weighty vote to govern Division I. In the future, for example, it is widely assumed that the conventions will establish themselves and execute enforcement procedures.
“There are some who believe that, when we made the changes, we didn’t go far enough with the vote. [in 2014], that it should be higher,” said Lyons. I think you will have autonomous schools and conferences pushing for weighted votes. “
The rewriting of the constitution is part of the aftermath of the Alston v. NCAA decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, which stripped the NCAA of its much power.
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