Sixty-one percent of Power Five schools support establishing their own division within the NCAA that could decide its own operating rules, a Knight Commission survey revealed Tuesday. The survey was the deepest and most significant look at a separate question that has grown within the college athletics world: whether Power Five schools would one day consider breaking away from the nation's collegiate amateurism governing body.
The survey also revealed less than half (44%) of all respondents (351 Division I schools) support the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) actually separating from the NCAA.
The survey by the reform-minded commission was conducted in June and July of this year. The commission concluded there was a "wide dissatisfaction with how Division-I college sports are run." After contacting those 351 schools that make up the core of the NCAA, there was "overwhelming support for major reform" of NCAA governance, the commission concluded.
The Power Five encompasses 65 schools, those that make up the five largest and richest conferences in college athletics (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) plus Notre Dame.
"These 65 schools would become a completely new division of the NCAA in all sports except basketball," said Michael Cross, a Knight Commission consultant who summarized the question.
The new division would allow the Power Five to establish its own minimums for number of sports (currently at 16 per school) and scholarship (85 in football, 13 in men's basketball) along with separate amateurism rules.
In essence, the Power Five would be on its own playing under an NCAA umbrella and collecting NCAA Tournament revenue. Those conferences received increased rules-making autonomy through NCAA legislation five years ago.
"There is little satisfaction with [NCAA] governance, and the finances of college athletics are broken," Cross said during the presentation to media.
The last time the NCAA separated into divisions in football was 1978 when Division I became Division I-A (now FBS) and Division I-AA (now FCS). The reason then would be the same reason now: The largest schools want more financial and governance autonomy because they generate the most revenue.
Leaders in those power conferences have become increasingly distressed by the NCAA's role in college athletics, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the feeling is that the NCAA largely sat on the sidelines while the conferences themselves modeled drug-testing protocols and return-to-play guidelines. The survey revealed only one-third of the 351 Division I schools are satisfied with NCAA governance.
There has also been outcry against the NCAA's slow reaction to name, image and likeness rights. The association seemed to have NIL legislation forced upon it by state NIL bills being sponsored around the country. Formal legislation allowing athletes to profit from such things as commercials, autographs and social media is expected to be passed in January.
"I don't think it's imminent, but I think [it will happen] at some point," one Power Five athletic director said regarding those conferences breaking away from the NCAA.
The 61% figure extrapolated would represent 40 Power Five schools positive toward the idea of a breakaway with 15% against the idea of a new NCAA division for their conferences. Significantly less than half of the schools in the Group of Five, FCS and non-football playing Division I supported the concept.
The Knight Commission did not reveal which schools voted on the specific question that asked about creation "of a new NCAA division in all sports for the Autonomous 5 Conferences."
The Group of Five is made up of the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. The survey found a growing divide between schools in those conferences and the Power Five.
There were a total of 362 respondents. Only 20% of Division I presidents responded to the survey (69) compared to 30% of ADs (106) and two-thirds of the 32 DI commissioners (21).