Blair Kerkhoff

June 1, 2014

Power conferences in NCAA: Play ball with us or else

The power five conferences — the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC — that make the money in college sports want to spend it as they see fit. If they can’t do that, they made go and play by their own rules.

It’s the autonomy, stupid.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive’s language was a bit more polite than the two-decade old presidential campaign strategy that focused on the economy.

But Slive’s recent closing statement at the SEC spring meetings when it came to the power conferences getting their way delivered a similar bite.

If they don’t, especially when it comes to voting requirements to enact legislation, the leagues could take their ball and create a new college sports world for themselves.

And don’t think they can’t afford it.

There was plenty of scoreboard watching in college sports last week and none of it had to do with action on the field.

The final score: members of power conferences $20 million and rising from league generated revenues for 2013-14, mostly lucrative football TV deals. Everybody else: much less.

This is new money-talks math of college athletics, and it’s about the change the way sports are governed.

In the simplest terms, the power five conferences — the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC — that make the money want to spend it as they see fit.

They want to more fully fund athletes’ scholarships and provide greater medical care among other benefits. This summer, the schools will hammer out the details of new governance structure with the intent of implementation for the 2014-15 school and sports year.

The new structure would remain within NCAA Division I, and presumably other leagues would be free to adopt the changes proposed by the power conferences. The American Athletic Conference has said it wants to align with the big boys.

But based on the tone of annual spring meetings, which wrapped up for several conferences in the past two weeks, the path to autonomy could be bumpy as schools contemplate a world with even greater financial imbalance than before.

Plus, there’s the voting structure. The NCAA steering committee that is authoring the new model has proposed a supermajority voting requirement. To enact legislation, it would take two-thirds of the 65 power conference schools plus 15 voting student-athlete representatives. Four of the five conferences would have to approve.

That’s too high a threshold, said Slive and others. The power conference counter is 60 percent with approval from three leagues.

Sunday, the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors agreed with that notion in a statement that said in part: “The conference continues to support…a voting process that does not set a bar so high that it prohibits change…”

Last month, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott called it a “red-flag” concern.

If the power conferences aren’t satisfied on this matter, Slive gave voice to a new concept —Division IV.

That will be the one where the 65 schools play by their own rules.

“It’s not something we want to do,” Slive said.

But if it takes some heavy handiness to get it done, Slive and the SEC won’t hesitate. This is the conference that decided to hold the line at eight conference football games when the sentiment around the sport suggested nine.

The power conferences deal from a position of, well, power. They also have the added benefit of being right about this issue. Conferences and the NCAA have been challenged by a handful of lawsuits that have to do with cost of attendance, not to mention the Northwestern football union vote.

The momentum to provide student-athletes more benefits is stronger than ever, and the power conferences have the leverage.

“We know that failure to create what we’re trying to create would result in doing something different,” Slive said. “We hope everyone realizes we’re moving into a new era and this is the way to retain the collegiate model. This is an historic moment. If we don’t seize the moment, we’ll make a mistake.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.

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