The NCAA’s top five conferences – that’s the ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 – have finally been given what everyone expected they would: autonomy to exclusively decide how they will be governed and what rules they will subscribe to.
That’s after a 16-2 vote by the NCAA Division I board of directors gave the conferences that right, pending a two-month deliberation period which is unlikely to cause fuss.
The response on the blogosphere, respected media outlets and laymen alike, was instant.
It led to ESPN heading off its story with the assertion that the nation’s top schools “just got more powerful – maybe a lot so.” The Big Ten Network said it meant the “richest and most powerful 65 schools” will be able to “enact rules that are pertinent to the high level they function at.”
Finally, the New York Times came in and cried wolf, saying the rules would “further widen the gulf between [the Power 5 schools] and other universities.”
NBC Sports thought the rich got richer. So did Sports News International. What about the Hartford Courant? Oh, they thought so too. Michigan State’s 247Sports site. The Deseret News – do I sound like a repeating record yet?
This is the mythology of college sports’ hierarchy: that somehow the richest conferences have gotten “even richer” from this decision.
The rich are dominating profits
The reality though is that these titans among NCAA’s Division I schools have already been as dominant as they could imaginably be.
They dominate the headlines. They make more money, invest more in facilities, draw the largest fan-bases, sign lucrative TV contracts and build their own TV networks around their brand.
Only 23 of 228 athletic departments at NCAA Division 1 public schools made a profit in 2012, according to a USA Today analysis last year. The top of that profitable group included the expected suspects: Texas ($165 million), Wisconsin ($149m), Alabama ($116m) and Michigan ($131m).
The Crimson Tide's total expenses, at $116 million, surpassed the total revenues of all but eight of the teams.
Yes, on the surface level, granting the schools rights to decide on rules such as an increased stipend for players and guaranteed four-year scholarships is an increase in power.
But are these schools at a greater competitive advantage over non-Power 5 schools than they were before?
The recruiting gap is insurmountable
If money greases the wheels, then college football is a landscape of a few high-powered locomotives racing against a few tricycles.
That's especially true because money has a huge impact on whether colleges can recruit players effectively.
Now look at which teams consistently have the top-rated recruiting classes.
Only three teams that aren't in a power-five conference, according to 247Sports.com, finished with a top-50 recruiting class in the last five years. That analysis comes from Bleacher Report, which said BYU (2010), Cincinnati (2011) and South Florida (2014) were the only ones to accomplish the feat.
The top players will attend Power 5 universities. The secondary players, who still want to play football in Division I, will trickle down to the lower programs.
The power structure has not changed.