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College Football Insider

NCAA power-conference subdivision possible, ACC commish says

ACC commissioner John Swofford is waiting to see how everything plays out.
ACC commissioner John Swofford is waiting to see how everything plays out. (USATSI)

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- ACC commissioner John Swofford is looking for the “sweet spot of something that would work” for everyone when it comes to the way the NCAA governs its members, and he wonders if a new division for high-revenue schools is looming, he told CBSSports.com in an interview from this week's ACC Kickoff.

For months, the NCAA has been evaluating its own governance, and Swofford said that process could reach an apex at the NCAA Convention in January.

“I think it's fair to say there's a general feeling the process is not as effective as it needs to be right now and not as inclusive as it needs to be right now,” Swofford said.

Last week, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the NCAA faced “important questions that must be answered." At Monday's Big 12 media event, commissioner Bob Bowlsby called for “transformational change” that could eventually create a dividing wall between the five “power” conferences and the rest of college football.

Will the vocal leadership coming from several league offices result in the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 -- the high-resource conferences that want flexibility to provide full cost of attendance with additional money for students, among other things -- getting their own NCAA subdivision?

Swofford is waiting to see.

“I think that's a possibility that we'll have to see play out,” Swofford said. “I don't know of anybody who's out there right now beating the drum to walk away from the NCAA. I think the desire is to find solutions within the framework of the existing organization if at all possible.”

Two years after first proposing a $2,000 stipend for college athletes, the NCAA is still looking for a way to aid players beyond the traditional scholarship model. The plan doesn't have the support of the entire Division-I body of more than 340 schools, which appears a source of frustration among power conferences that feel passing meaningful legislation is a challenge.

They essentially want their own rules because they have the flexibility to do things others might opt against, such as paying for paying for increased value of grant-in-aid or helping the parents of recruits or players visit campus or provide three meals a day for athletes.

Swofford says he's concerned that athletic directors are not prominent figures in NCAA decision-making. That honor belongs to university presidents. The NCAA recently announced an athletic directors' council that meets at the end of the month in Chicago, and perhaps that's a good first step.

“In my mind, the athletic directors are the day-to-day practitioners and the pros, or should be, that do this every day,” Swofford said. “I think they need to be more engaged.”

Swofford said he doesn't know of any counterparts “beating the drum to walk away from the NCAA.”

“I think the desire is to find solutions within the framework of the existing organization if at all possible,” Swofford said.

Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the view that the smaller conferences are pulling the power conferences down is “a little simplistic.”

Instead, he says, NCAA governance is a complex issue that everyone's trying to figure out, including the current representative form of governance that includes a legislative council and an NCAA board of directors.

“Clearly high-resource schools want to do certain things,” Steinbrecher said. “Whether you call it a stipend, miscellaneous expense allowance, they are very interested in that. The challenge is how do you develop something all the folks at the upper level need to agree on. The rest of us will have to weigh in.”

Steinbrecher says he has not noticed an urge for divisional breakoff at the commissioner level.

“My sense was that given discussions with commissioners, we're not trying to blow this thing up, but there needs to be an appreciation for the issues we're dealing with,” Steinbrecher said.

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