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Death of the Big East Has Big Consequences for NCAA

The NCAA would have a number of options of how to handle the death of the Big East and/or WAC as FBS conferences. But as we will see, all of those options lead to the same result: more power for the have-nots.

1. Big East/WAC or Successor Keeps the Votes

If the Big East and WAC keep their positions in the NCAA hierarchy, that could mean two basketball leagues that have extra votes on the Legislative Council and permanent seats on the Board of Directors, just like the largest football conferences. That would mean nine seats on the Board of Directors for non-FBS conferences, to just five for the BCS conferences. On close votes, the Big Five would need to bring along all four other FBS conferences just to create a stalemate. In the Legislative Council, it would mean FBS has only 22.5 votes vs. 28.5 for the rest of Division I.

2. Big East and/or WAC Cease to Exist

If we assume one or both of the conferences no longer exists, it removes votes from the FBS without reducing the representation of the other subdivisions. If both leagues eventually dissolve, that still means a very close split on the Board of Directors (9 vs. 7) and still gives FCS/non-football a majority in the Legislative Council (24 to 22.5). That is, unless the former Big East football schools received the same position the former Big East occupied and that they would tend to vote with the larger conferences.

3. Big East/WAC Move to Non-Football Tier

What would seem to be the most likely and sensible move would be to shift the Big East and the WAC to the same level as FCS/non-football conferences. The Board of Directors split would be the same, nine to seven. But the smaller schools would have a bigger majority in the Legislative Council (26.4 to 22.5). And that would not be overcome by a new football conference like in Scenario 2.

Division I’s Response

No matter what happens, the loss of an FBS football conference might mean more money and power in college football for the big boys, but also means their power is reduced in NCAA governance. This comes at an especially contentious time. On the one hand, the big conferences, here represented by Jim Delany, are asking for accommodation:

I think that the issue at least from my seat is whether or not in certain areas we can be accurately accommodated for those issues that we believe are good for us, and often times good for student-athletes.

While the smaller conferences, voiced by Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander, are asking for more representation:

This is not about control. It’s not about reducing anyone’s authority or voting majority at all. We would fully anticipate that any changes would likely retain a majority for current FBS conferences. What we want,” Kallander said, “is more representation.”
“It’s very difficult to get our presidents engaged when we don’t have somebody who’s right there in the room.

Against that backdrop, the NCAA is debating the value of scholarships, implementing new academic standards, and rewriting the entire rule book with an eye toward a reduced emphasis on competitive equity, at least amongst different conferences. In the middle of all this change, the NCAA may need to decide how to handle the situation created by the WAC’s demise as a football conference and a break-up of the Big East. And how does the NCAA decide that?

Through a vote of the Division I membership.

In order to keep the status quo, much less give more autonomy and authority to the largest conferences, it would require the smaller conferences to give up a potential chance to have a majority in the Legislative Council and a closer split on the Board of Directors. Even the existing majorities for the FBS assume that the smaller FBS conferences have more in common with the larger football leagues than with FCS and non-football members. To add a further wrinkle, a vote to restructure Division I governance may occur with the Big East and WAC still holding their same favored place in the existing structure.

Executive Committee to the Rescue

If some sort of agreement about Division I governance cannot be reached, then a split of Division I becomes almost inevitable. The biggest question would be whether that split involves a new division within the NCAA or a breakaway of the largest football schools to form their own association.

Whether the NCAA creates a new division would rest in the hands of the Executive Committee. That committee is composed of 16 presidents and chancellors in the following breakdown:

  • Eight members from Division I FBS;
  • Two members from Division I FCS;
  • Two members from Division I non-football schools;
  • Two members from Division II; and
  • Two members from Division III.

We would expect the representatives of the five largest conferences to support a new division. It is also easy to see how the other members might not be so unified. Do the other three FBS representatives see a potential place in the new division? Do some of the Division II or Division III representatives see no problem with changes at the top?

A tie vote seems possible, even likely. You would have five clear votes in favor, four clear votes against, and seven that could go either way. If there were a tie vote on the issue of creating a new division, that tie is broken by the NCAA President, who is an ex-officio member of the Executive Committee.

All of this leads to the very real possibility that NCAA President Mark Emmert, who has much less power over NCAA policy that many people think, would be solely responsible for casting a vote with the fate of the association at stake. President Emmert would be faced with the prospect of having to give up on Division I’s big tent to save the NCAA, or the prospect of calling the Big Five’s bluff and more or less daring them to leave.

Hopefully, the prospect of having one person decide the future of college sports would lead to a more moderate, negotiated settlement between the Big Five and the rest of Division I and the NCAA. But each time a school leaves a conference on bad terms, each time a rule comes down from the NCAA that seems imposed rather than agreed upon, and as conferences get more diverse and less collegial, the likelihood of Mark Emmert getting the final call goes up.’

What do you think? Does the NCAA need to add another division? Will the Big Five conferences really leave the NCAA? Let us know in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!

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