The train for formation of a football super division within the NCAA has left the station and is barreling full-speed ahead. By Januarys annual NCAA convention, final plans should be in order for the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC to join forces in seeking even greater prosperity.
I do not understand why. It looks to me as if those 65 football programs already operate in a different universe from the other 60 or so at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. Why the need to separate themselves further?
Lets examine a couple of the issues put on the table recently at different conference football media days by SEC commissioner Mike Slive, ACC commissioner John Swofford, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
The major issue, and the one that seemed to be the tipping point for what we will call the Super Division programs, deals with paying athletes. The NCAA and members of these five conferences refer to this as increasing full cost of attendance. Do not be fooled. They are talking about paying athletes.
In 2011, NCAA president Mark Emmert, at the recommendation of a committee formed to study the matter, proposed that all NCAA Division I schools increase the full cost of attendance. In other words, an increase in cash that would be available to athletes under a full scholarship.
The proposal was voted down by the majority of Division I schools because of budget concerns. Those concerns went beyond merely paying the 100 or so football and mens basketball players. Rather, the schools were concerned about the outlay of money needed to pay an equal number of female athletes in order to comply with federal law.
So, instead of having an issue with the lower Division I schools that could not afford a stipend for 200 or so athletes, the Super Division programs really have an issue with Title IX, the federal law that says female athletes must be treated in an equal manner to their male counterparts.
The Super Division could wage a fight against Title IX, but that would be a huge risk and could result in the NCAA losing its non-profit, tax-exempt status. No athletics program wants to run that risk, nor does the NCAA.
The Super Division programs might argue that, with the additional revenue received from the NCAAs newly agreed upon College Football Playoff deal with ESPN, they can afford to pay both male and female athletes and comply with Title IX.
My guess, though, is most Super Division programs already have allocated the additional revenue from the College Football Playoff deal. That money will go for new indoor football practice facilities, bumps in coaches salaries and perhaps payroll increases by enlarging football coaching staffs.
You would think college presidents could see through the pay-for-play proposals by the Super Division programs. These are not starving athletes with little or no spending money. They are college students who have the entire cost of their education covered by scholarships. Further, many scholarship athletes in football and mens basketball qualify for a few thousand dollars a year in spending money through Pell Grants.
Instead of paying athletes, the Super Division programs should take any additional revenue gained from the College Football Playoff deal and use it toward eliminating student fees that go toward athletics.
According to a USA Today study, only 23 of 228 athletics departments in 2011-12 generated enough money on their own to cover expenses. Certainly with the additional revenues streaming in, most if not all of the Super Division programs should be able to operate without assistance from student fees. That idea should be music to the ears of university presidents, who are dealing with ever-increasing tuition fees for students.
The other issue seems to be the Super Divisions desire to further distance itself from the remaining programs that play within the FBS. Another recent USA Today study found that for 2012, the average SEC programs operational expenses were $88.5 million. The average in the Mountain West Conference was $41.3 million.
That gap is likely to widen once the ESPN money from the College Football Playoff deal kicks in for 2014. The five Super Division conferences stand to make about $250 million a year from the deal. The deal gives 27 percent of the revenues to the other five FBS conferences Big East Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt, or about $95 million annually.
Take into account the Super Division conferences that are forming their own TV networks, as well as those that already have independent TV deals in place, and it is easy to see how the financial gap between the haves and have-nots of the college football world will continue to widen.
In the end, it seems as if university presidents should be more concerned with curbing escalating costs for athletics than with forming super divisions interested mostly in feeding the excesses of the super elite football programs.