The NCAA board of directors may have just saved the NCAA.
There was never anything subtle about the build-up to Friday’s announcement on autonomy. A seven-person subcommittee of that board approved a process for the power five conferences, in essence, to govern themselves.
If not the Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Big Ten would have separated from the NCAA in some form. That much was clear since autonomy saw the light of day in January. With dread, some called the separation Division IV -- a division within a division. Some have speculated it would eventually mean a clean break from the NCAA.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive all but said as much. So did the Big Ten’s Jim Delany. In this governance document from Friday, MAC officials ask the steering committee to adopt autonomy or risk "de facto Division IV."
The threat was real and it was scary. (Colleague Jon Solomon meticulously broke down the concerns here.)
But the board relented, pulled back from college athletics’ version of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It relented on a poison pill thrown into the hundreds of pages of documents: Any legislation by the Power 5 would be subject to a super majority -- or two-thirds -- vote.
Wisely, the board settled on a lower threshold.
A super majority was too controlling, too NCAA -- unacceptable to the Power 5. Slive actually said, "Autonomy means autonomy." Like it or not, the idea is for the Power 5 to run their own house. They will become the NCAA, at least at the highest level.
They’re going to be the ones push the athlete welfare agenda. They’re going to be the ones to clean up transfer rules. They’re going to be the ones to guarantee lifetime medical coverage. They’re the ones who could even consider freshman ineligibility to purify the whole sordid enterprise.
Most important, they’re the ones who are going to implement cost of attendance. By January we should be seeing athletes get paid anywhere from $1,000-$6,000 above their tuition.
Well, that is, if autonomy survives a 60-day override period. After all the blather, all the meetings, all the documents, the same group of schools that got us to this point could take it all down.
The commissioners got serious about wresting power three years ago when Division I schools (population: 351) overrode a simple $2,000 stipend.
With power now shifting to the hands of the commissioners, another override would be the end of NCAA athletics as we know them. Oh, the teams would still play but not in the same recognizable form.
Would the NCAA Tournament be at risk? Hard to tell. Perhaps the Power 5 sell the name “Division IV” to some network for even more money. Enforcement? Well, that’s already under scrutiny.
For now, there is a calm. This autonomy thing is actually going to happen. Players are going to be "paid," protected, empowered. The whole bureaucratic monster is going to be tamed a bit.
If not, as Slive once again reminded this week, there will be "consequences."