Return to Bylaw Blog

How A 24-Sport Minimum Would Impact the Power 5 Conferences

In all the discussion yesterday about a new division1, only one unique idea was actually tossed out. In what almost looks like a throwaway comment captured by Dan Wolken at ACC Media Days, North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham suggested that teams in Division X should have a higher minimum number of sports. And not just a couple more than Division I’s current minimum of 14. Cunningham suggested a increase to 24, more than 50% over the current limit.

As one would expect, Cunningham’s Tar Heels check in comfortably with 28 NCAA sports. But what about the rest of the country? I researched the sport sponsorship at every BCS school2 to see what the offerings looked like. That research raised two interesting questions. Today I’ll look at which schools and conferences would be most impacted by Cunningham’s requirement. Tomorrow will start to ask which sports would see sponsorship rise and what championships a theoretical Division X or new association might focus on holding first.

A couple of quick disclaimers. I assumed that any school with a track program for a gender was sponsoring all three sports, cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track, unless it was clear that was not the case. If I was incorrect through, I am fine with basically giving schools credit toward a 24-sport minimum that they have not yet earned. Adding onto your track program is significantly cheaper and easier than starting brand new sports.

Second, I only counted NCAA sports. That means no men’s rugby or rowing, no sailing, and no competitive cheer. For co-ed sports, rifle was counted as one team while skiing and fencing were counted as two. It appears that is the way the NCAA treats those sports.

By Conference

Nationwide, the 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences are each sponsoring about 20 sports. But they are not evenly distributed by conference. Here are the medians for each of the Power 5 conferences:

  1. Big Ten: 24
  2. ACC: 23
  3. SEC: 20
  4. Pac-12: 19.5
  5. Big 12: 18

That gives us a rough approximation, but a better measure is how many schools have fewer than 24 teams and how many total each conference will need to add. Here are the conferences sorted by the average number of teams institutions below 24 would need to add:

  1. Big 12: 10 institutions, 56 teams (5.6 avg)
  2. Pac-12: 9 institutions, 44 teams (4.89 avg)
  3. SEC: 14 institutions, 59 teams (4.21 avg)
  4. ACC: 10 institutions, 41 teams (4.1 avg)
  5. Big Ten: 6 institutions, 18 teams (3.0 avg)

Every single Big 12 and SEC institution would have to add teams. Most of the Pac-12 and ACC would have to increase their offerings as well, at a clip comparable to the Big 12 and SEC. Meanwhile, the Big Ten seems to have a substantial leg up on the rest of the country on this front.

Looking at sport sponsorship by conference is relevant because just like schools need to spend money to sponsor teams, conferences need to as well. More teams mean more or expanded conference championships and more teams for the conference to administer. That raises marketing, championship, and administrative expenses. And most of the sports schools would consider adding will not be generating significant revenue any time soon.

By Institution

As shown above, 49 of the 65 institutions in the power conferences will need to add sports. Who will need to add the most? Here are the schools that sponsor fewer than 20 sports:

  • Clemson: 19
  • Northwestern: 19
  • Pitt: 19
  • Syracuse: 19
  • Washington: 19
  • Baylor: 18
  • Iowa State: 18
  • Kansas: 18
  • Miami: 18
  • Oklahoma State: 18
  • Oregon: 18
  • Utah: 18
  • Wake Forest: 18
  • West Virginia: 18
  • Colorado: 17
  • Georgia Tech: 17
  • Mississippi State: 17
  • Ole Miss: 17
  • Oregon State: 17
  • Texas Tech: 17
  • Washington State: 17
  • Kansas State: 16
  • Vanderbilt: 16

Some of these schools are in better shape than others. Northwestern needs to add five teams for instance. But the Wildcats have no men’s track and field at all, and only women’s cross country. Fielding a full track program, while significantly more expensive and not without Title IX implications, would at least quickly fulfill our mythical 24-sport minimum.

Texas Tech is in a tougher sport. Even if the Red Raiders added every Big 12 championship sport that they do not have, they would still need one more. And the conference sports they need to add are expensive: men’s and women’s swimming and diving, rowing, equestrian, wrestling, and gymnastics. Big facility upgrades, lots of scholarships, and expensive insurance are common themes in those sports.


Bubba Cunningham’s suggestion is definitely worth considering. As the NCAA is ringing the alarm bells about the effect of the O’Bannon case on non-revenue sports, a Division X even more focused on the revenue and borderline revenue sports could reduce opportunities for student-athletes even faster. A drastic increase in the minimum number of sports would certainly help that.

But we can already see from where stiff opposition to such a plan would come. Division X is seen as a potential answer to the problems caused by an O’Bannon victory. Cunningham’s idea would add millions in new expenses to most institutions’ balance sheets, just as their revenue may be reduced significantly.

Pac 12 Breakout player-Jacob Alsadek.

But one of the saving graces of Cunningham’s plan is the fact that Division X (or a breakaway association) has to decide at some point which sports it is going to sponsor. And that’s where looking at what institutions sponsor now and what they might add is helpful, as we’ll do tomorrow.

  1. I’m going with “Division X” until it has an official name.
  2. As they will be configured in 2014-15 when realignment shakes out.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!