DESTIN, Fla. — It's the SEC's turn to bring out the hammer to get what the Power 5 conferences want in NCAA governance.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Friday that if the Power 5 conferences can't get the autonomy it wants to provide more benefits to college athletes there will be a Division 4. Florida president Bernie Machen said there would be a “crisis” if the Power 5 can't provide cost of attendance stipends that are the subjects of lawsuits.
“We would love to be part of the NCAA Division I, but we're in a squeeze here,” Machen said. “There are now six lawsuits that name our conference and specifically have to do with the whole cost of attendance. Our conference. Yet we would like to make changes and yet we can't because the NCAA doesn't allow us to. We're really caught between a rock and a hard place. We desperately would like some flexibility.”
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation heard arguments this week about whether to consolidate several scholarship/cost of attendance cases into one jurisdiction. The crux of most of these lawsuits is the plaintiffs say the NCAA and its conferences conspire to fix scholarship values below the cost of attendance figures listed by universities. The NCAA settled a similar cost-of-attendance lawsuit in 2008.
The NCAA Governance Steering Committee's current proposal says that for the Power 5 conferences to create new legislation they would need approval from two-thirds of the 65 Power 5 schools and the 15-athlete voting bloc plus four of the five major conferences. The Power 5 conferences, including the SEC, want a 60-percent threshold among themselves and athletes and three of the five conferences. They also want the ability to interpret new rules passed.
Slive raised concerns that the current proposed voting threshold won't be high enough to pass legislation, such as cost of attendance, medical care and issues related to agents. Slive said he is optimistic the governance structure will pass.
“If it doesn't, I think our league will want to move toward a Division IV,” Slive said. “My colleagues, I can't speak for anybody else, but I would be surprised if they don't feel the same way.”
The threats are a common tactic used by the Power 5 conferences to gain more flexibility with NCAA rules. In essence, the threats usually imply that the most popular schools in the country may no longer be associated with the lucrative NCAA men's basketball tournament in its current form, although Slive wouldn't go down that route. He said he hasn't given much thought about what a Division 4 would look like other than it would have its own rules.
“Even in Division 4, though, we would want to be part of the basketball tournament and all of the championships,” Slive said. “We don't want to disrupt the championships, even if we went to Division 4. But it would be an alternate to creating autonomy in certain areas. We think the NCAA and college athletics are better served if we all stay together in Division I.”
Machen expressed pessimism that the Power 5 conferences will get what they want. The NCAA steering committee meets before submitting a final proposal to the Division I Board of Directors to vote on in August. The NCAA membership will then have a chance to override the board's vote.
“There are a lot of people on the other side who don't want to do this because they think by doing this all we're really trying to do is separate competitively from the other schools,” Machen said. “I think there are lots of arrows in all kinds of directions on this thing so that's why I'm somewhat pessimistic about this.”
South Carolina president Harris Pastides, a member of the NCAA board and the governance steering committee, said he anticipates autonomy passing with a few “tweaks.”
“I don't think it's a no-brainer or a slam dunk, but the indicators are everybody wants it to happen,” Pastides said.
If the Power 5 doesn't get the autonomy it wants, the NCAA and the five major conferences would face “difficult times,” Machen said.
“The thing that's interesting about it is the NCAA needs this to work as much as we do because they're on the point (in lawsuits) as well,” Machen said. “… The whole thing could go up in smokes if the lawsuits come down or the unionization (of college players succeeds). The whole intercollegiate model is at risk if we don't do something. If they don't want to do this, it seems to me it's incumbent upon them to come up with something else that will help us get outside of this box.”
Slive concluded the afternoon of saber-rattling by the beach this way: “I think the way to leave this here is if in August the board rejects the steering committee's recommendation, you should call me up.”