Few things generate as much passion around America as college football does. College football stadiums across the country are filled up every Fall Saturday, sometimes with as many as 110,000 fans. Of course, college football is also big business. Like any business, its leaders will do whatever it takes to protect their financial interests and keep the revenue streams flowing.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is one of those leaders. Much like the commissioners of the NBA, MLB, or NFL work to protect the interests of their franchise owners, Slive’s job is to protect the interests of the schools in his conference. The SEC has become the preeminent conference in college football under Slive’s watch, partially due to his helping the league get increased national exposure.
During the recent SEC meetings, Slive mentioned the possibility of his conference combining with the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 to form a new division within the NCAA ranks for their schools. Slive has spun the story as a way for schools in these conferences to provide more for the student athletes, including paying the full cost of attendance and providing long-term healthcare. Those things seem like they should be a given, considering the schools and NCAA make millions of dollars each year off those athletes.
The real impetus behind the idea of a new division is for the schools to make more money. Providing players with increased benefits will help dampen the call for players to be paid, as well as diminishing the Northwestern unionization case. In that way, it’s a move of preserving the status quo, while also consolidating the money amongst the big conference programs.
Slive’s position is a less than subtle shot at FBS schools not in the five major conferences, something that’s not been lost on UCF coach George O’Leary. O’Leary remarked, “They’re trying to go the other way and create an even wider gap between the haves and have-nots.” Of course, O’Leary is looking out for the interest of his school, just like Slive is looking out for the SEC, but what he’s saying is accurate. The SEC doesn’t want to settle for sharing their profits with smaller schools from Conference USA or the Sun Belt Conference, and whether or not they should is debatable. The creation of a new NCAA Division, however, would all but delegitimize the FBS programs that aren’t in a major conference.
The NCAA will likely acquiesce to the demands of Slive and the other major conference commissioners, giving them increased autonomy while preventing the creation of a new division. The NCAA’s revenue streams go hand in hand with the revenue streams of the biggest football programs in the country, so it’s in their best interest to appease those big conference teams. As long as the athletes generating all this money for the schools and NCAA aren’t getting a share of the profits, the NCAA will go along with what their big moneymaking schools want.
While there likely will not be a new division for the big conference schools, the divide between those programs and the other FBS programs will continue to grow. The programs in the major conferences will get more media attention, more recruits, and, most importantly, more money.