Power 5 Conference Autonomy Achieved


Friday was a big day for news in the NCAA as the organization had just agreed to empower the largest member conferences with special rights and the Ed O’Bannon decision came down against the NCAA, possibly wiping away its business model forever.

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For now the first is more important than the second, as the O’Bannon case will find itself into a spiral of appeals before it is finally decided. Autonomy is real though. The ripples of this decision will very quickly be felt on the pond of collegiate athletics.

Autonomy means that the 64 schools that make up the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Notre Dame, and Pacific 12 Conference will have the power to make some changes and rules that affect only those schools.

One of the big issues that emerged out of the NCAA basketball tournament was Shabazz Napier’s commentary about sometimes student-athletes going hungry. While the NCAA rather quickly made changes to cover food in a scholarship, it woke up the debate about how the scholarship was inadequate to cover the cost of attendance at college.

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  • This was a sticking point for the power schools. They had pressed for some kind of stipend before, and they had the resources to provide it. However the small less wealthy schools voted the measure down, because they could not do it. So the big schools rankled at being criticized for not doing something that they had tried and failed to do.

    Now, the autonomous big schools can cover scholarships for the full cost of attendance if they so choose. An end to year based scholarships to be replaced by guaranteed four year scholarships could also be on the docket. The big schools will also have the power to change the rules regarding agent contact, allowing student-athletes to make money, and paying to bring families to see post-season games.

    The big fear is that these increased benefits will make the power conferences even more attractive to the normal recruit at the expense of the smaller schools. Right now there are good teams at small schools because the second tier running back in California may realize that his chance to start at USC is hopeless, so he goes to Boise State and produces there. Now that same recruit may feel it is a better deal to be the 4th back on USC and get the extra benefits.

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  • Why then would the small schools agree? Ultimately they realized they had a good thing going with the current NCAA environment, and they did not want to jeopardize the slice of the pie that they do have. It is not a coincidence that several big conference leaders were talking about the viability of secession before this decision came down. Or that Big 12 Conference chair Bob Bowlsby brow-beat the NCAA over enforcement, leaving the hint that the big boys in the power leagues could do it better on their own. That threat was leverage to get this decision.

    The ACC will be one of the leagues that can suggest changes in the power conference rules, and therefore will be one of the beneficiaries of this decision. In theory its teams should become more attractive to recruits, against the smaller schools that share its regional base. East Carolina and Appalachian State may be hurt as their bread and butter may go to ACC schools where the benefits are better. This is not to suggest that football will die at either school, just that recruits will have more thinking to do.

    Finally, this all might mean very little if the O’Bannon case gets upheld in the higher levels on appeal. That case will truly change the relationship of student-athlete and school, probably in ways we cannot foresee.

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