MORRIS: Power 5’s power play is all about greed

rmorris@thestate.comJune 7, 2014 

THE FUTURE OF the NCAA and its existence as an organization for amateur athletes has come down to a massive power play by the Power Five conferences. Hiding behind the guise of needing “autonomy,” the Power Five has basically told the NCAA it needs to play by its own rules.

Sadly, instead of telling those 65 member schools to take a hike and form their own organization, the NCAA likely will cave to the threats. In so doing, the Power Five will be taking a giant leap toward the elimination of amateurism.

Within a year or so, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 will be paying athletes, relaxing recruiting limitations and generally operating as professional organizations. If you think the upper echelon of college athletics is all about money now and cheating is rampant, just wait.

The Power Five now will control most of the NCAA’s purse strings, funneling nearly all the winnings to its member programs. A structure that already is tilted toward the wealthy will further separate the haves from the have nots.

As you might imagine, the remaining 286 NCAA members – the majority by a long shot – are not happy. George O’Leary, the football coach at Central Florida, was the first to speak his mind.

“They sound like the South during the Civil War,” O’Leary said of the Power Five to the Orlando Sentinel. “If they don’t get their way, they’re going to secede and start their own country. … I think college football is in real trouble.”

You might wonder why the Power Five does not secede from the NCAA. It is simple. A secession will not happen because athletics programs enjoy tax-exempt status under the NCAA’s umbrella. Those programs do not want to start paying taxes.

In support of the Power Five’s power play, many fans contend it is a good move because the NCAA is a poorly run, flawed organization – which in many ways it is. Yet, in leveling criticism at the NCAA, many tend to forget that the governing body of intercollegiate athletics is not comprised of a few men in Indianapolis who make decisions that affect the member institutions.

Those 351 members are the NCAA. They make the rules. They determine, in very general terms, what is best for all athletics programs. Naturally, all members are not going to be happy nor satisfied with what is deemed best for the majority.

The Power Five’s unhappiness began with conference re-alignments and a committee’s recommendation two years ago that all programs should be permitted to pay stipends to football and men’s basketball athletes. When that recommendation made it to the NCAA member programs, it was rejected.

The majority of programs recognized that they could not afford to pay athletes, since most NCAA athletics departments operate at an annual deficit anyway. Further restricting programs was Title IX, the federal law that rightly demands equality for both sexes in athletics. In other words, if a program pays football players, it also must pay an equal number of women athletes.

That is when the Power Five decided it wanted its own rules. The paying of athletes was a jumping off point for those 65 member programs. Do not be fooled. This is about the Power Five wanting to monopolize the enormous TV revenue stream that is running through college football.

“The 65 member institutions are committed to meeting the needs of student-athletes based on increased resources, and the desire to provide student-athletes with enhanced benefits such as full cost of attendance, lifelong learning and additional health and nutritional benefit,” read a copy of a proposal by the Power Five conferences that was endorsed by the NCAA Division I board of directors.

It used to be that college presidents were members of this board to ensure that the academic missions of their institutions were not compromised by athletics department desires. Not anymore.

Now, it seems that college presidents have become more fans than administrators. If you do not believe that, then you were not listening when the recent SEC meetings concluded and nearly every college president repeated verbatim what the league commissioner said of the Power Five needs moving forward.

Most of what the Power Five conferences want for the athletes can be obtained without breaking away from the current NCAA structure, including a small stipend to athletes by increasing the full cost of attendance for all.

The problem with the Power Five proposal is that even with its own set of rules to abide by, those programs still will have to deal with Title IX. They also run into the possibility of athletes no longer qualifying for Pell Grant money if the full cost of attendance is increased.

That is why I do not believe the Power Five power play is about increasing benefits for athletes. No, this really is about greed, and allowing the TV money grab to be restricted to those 65 member programs.

As a result, NCAA member programs should say good riddance to the Power Five conferences. Let them secede from the NCAA. Maybe the South will win this time around.

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