NCAA Ruling/Power 5 Autonomy - What It Means

So what does the NCAA's big vote mean to the college football world?

NCAA & Power 5 Autonomy

Really, what does it all mean?

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The NCAA voted to let the Power 5 conferences – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC – become autonomous. To put it more correctly, the NCAA voted to allow the Power 5 to become autonomous and run things the way they want to, because the alternative would’ve been the Power 5 would’ve run things the way they wanted to, only without the NCAA being a part of the fun.

So what does it all really mean? Why should you care? You’re going to hear and probably read a lot of procedural mumbo jumbo, but here’s what’s really going on.

The Power 5 just wants to be able to do things the way they want to do things.

The big conferences finally realized that it didn’t make proper business sense to carry the smaller leagues around anymore. The SEC isn’t on the same financial playing field as the Sun Belt, and the Michigans of the world didn’t want the Eastern Michigans to have an equal say in how the collegiate athletic world should be run. With this NCAA ruling, the path has been paved for the Power 5 to figure out their own infrastructure and how to best run their respective businesses without the NCAA being able to say much.

Also, this is the Power 5’s way of trying to jump off the sinking ship. The NCAA is an easy target right now in terms of lawsuits, power, influence, and PR, and while autonomy doesn’t remove the Power 5 from any of the problems, at least it makes it look like they’re creating some distance.

To cut to the chase, who’s the big winner and who’s the big loser?

Obviously the big conferences are the winners, and depending on how all of this shakes out over the next several years, the players might be the huge losers.

Unionization will take the biggest hit, because if the conferences start to legislate the way they want to, they’re going to cut the legs right out of the movement. The player representatives will get around a 3% say, which means they don’t get any say, but the players will be able to start receiving more money, will have more attention paid to concussions and other issues, and will be treated with a bit more respect than before. Unfortunately, they’ll be paid pennies and lip service compared to the billions that will come rolling in for the mega-conferences. If you thought it was hard for players to have a unified voice and proper representation before, that’s nothing compared to what they’ll have to do to deal with the bigger and more powerful conferences.

So the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt – at least among the football conferences – are hosed, right?

Not really. The Puny 6 won’t have as much power in how things are done, but they’re not going to go away, and they’re sure not going to start playing college football in the spring, like SMU head coach June Jones suggested. Everyone is still sort of under the NCAA umbrella, but now the Power 5 get twice as much say – around 38% of the voting power goes to the Power 5, and around 19% to the Puny 6, with non-football conferences, student-athlete councils, and a faculty advisory thing taking up the remaining part. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean the other conferences are going to be shoved into a lesser financial situation. They’re being asked to sit on the couch with Sidney. Jugdish, Mohammet and Lonny, but they’re able to help themselves to punch and cookies.

How does this affect John Q. College Football Fan?

It doesn’t. The average sports fan won’t even notice or care. The same rich and powerful programs will remain rich and powerful. It’s not like New Mexico State was in the hunt for national titles under the old system.

But will this end up changing the world of college athletics as we know it?

Yeah, but it might take a little while.

You know all those pesky NCAA investigations surrounding a slew of phony-baloney rules? Those might go the way of the leather helmet depending on the rules and regulations the Power 5 will end up creating. Outside of the bungling of the Penn State situation, when was the last time you heard the NCAA was doing anything real in terms of infraction investigations?

With billions of dollars on the line and the power in the hands of the big conferences, do you really think any cash-cow power program is going to get tagged for stupid stuff like a player getting money from a marketing consultant or a coach hiding a few e-mails about players selling their bowl memorabilia?

It’s not like the big conferences are now free to do whatever they wish. They take the power away from the NCAA in a lot of ways, but it’s going to take a bit before the Power 5 figures out among the respective leagues what the next step is.

The biggest battle might be over the idea of cost-of-attendance, which I keep saying over and over is the one really big area of interest. Basically, cost-of-attendance will be the way schools and colleges start to pay players without actually saying they’re going to pay them. Of all the things about to happen, in terms of recruiting, this could resonate the most with the average fan.

Here’s the problem, and here’s where the infighting is going to come. It costs a lot more to live in Westwood, Coral Gables, Chestnut Hill and Berkeley than it does in State College, Auburn and Starkville. Talk about a recruiting advantage, the schools and conferences have to figure out how they’re going to even the pay playing field, because some of the rich schools in small college towns are going to want to compete when it comes to money that can be offered, even if, technically, it’s supposed to be to offset the cost of living and going to school – NOT working – at a university.

The other big tussle will be between the haves and have-nots within the leagues. Ohio State and Michigan can afford anything, but Illinois and Purdue can’t. Also, this still won’t solve the overall problem of player talent and merit. In theory, cost-of-attendance will apply to the backup punter as well as the Heisman-caliber quarterback. Eventually, the conferences can decide on how to deal with this – like letting Johnny Heisman sign footballs for money, take endorsement deals, or $100 handshakes – but that’s ten steps ahead of what’s going on right now.

What about Notre Dame and BYU?

Notre Dame is lumped in with the ACC thanks to its Friends With Benefits deal. BYU is a different story. The program seems to love the freedom and autonomy of being an independent, but it also wants to be seen as a power program. On the field, the changes don’t matter much to BYU – it’ll always have a minor bowl tie-in and it could still get into the College Football Playoff with a monster year. However, in terms of influence in the way college athletics are run, BYU needs to latch on to a conference. The fans have no interest in going back to the Mountain West – even though it would push the league into another level. The Pac-12 already has Utah and doesn’t appear interested, but the Big 12 makes a ton of sense in terms of exposure, relative geography, and potential power within the league. At the moment, though, in terms of the ruling, BYU is still in its own world.

Is that it for the NCAA?

Nope. It’s still needed for a variety of reasons, including handling all of the other sports, but its days as a true governing body for major college football are effectively over.

Power 5, you got what you wanted. Let the games begin.

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