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McCollum's Column: Those NCAA schools in 'wealthy neighborhoods' want a fence

Posted: July 19, 2014 - 4:51pm

Maybe it was a well-directed bluff. But the Power 5 NCAA conferences had most of the chips.

And the NCAA is apparently dealing them a better hand.

The repercussions for NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision programs such as the University of Central Arkansas? Uncertain. Too early to tell.

Mike Slive, the Southeastern Conference commissioner, fired a significant shot across the bow last week when he noted that the Power 5 conferences (the SEC, the Big 12, the Big 10, the Atlantic Coast and the Pac-12) were serious in the proposals they were advancing, mostly aimed at perks and benefits for their athletes. This comes in the wake of NCAA members overriding a stipend last year and the threat of unionization from players from Northwestern.

Slive said if the Power 5 don’t get what they want, they would take their cards and play their own game by their rules in a new arena, which sounded very similar to Texas’ threat a couple of years ago leave the Big 12 if it couldn’t have its own network.

“Those conferences are light years ahead of us,” said Brad Teague, UCA’s director of athletics. “They have the resources. They can do what they want — either from the NCAA or going on their own. They have the money to do it; not everybody does.”

The initial threat was mainly about football and didn’t take into account the conferences outside the Power 5 that make an impact on the NCAA basketball tournament, whose revenue helps college’s budgets, NCAA Division I to DIII.

But the verbal onslaught apparently got the NCAA’s attention, which last week proposed a new governance structure that would give the Power 5 leagues more ability to gain the autonomy they desire within the NCAA alignment.

Under the plan, a 24-member council (separate from its board of directors, who oversee day-to-day operations) would be created that favors the Power 5 and includes representation by athletes. FBS conferences would have 56.3 percent of the vote. FCS leagues and non-football members of Division I would have 37.5 percent of the vote.

That gives the Power 5 members the ability to pass a proposal that benefits themselves. To do that, three of the five Power 5 representatives would have to approve it, then get approval for autonomy from 12 of the 20 members of the board of directors that is represented by presidents/chancellors of other FBS schools, FCS schools and non-football members — not a cinch but doable.

What the Power 5 want is more benefits and perks for the athlete.

“You look at 20 things they want, and a lot of them are good,” said Teague. “But some are not as good and some a lot of us just can’t afford, like being able to fly families to games, more insurance, more coaches, being able to transfer to another school without sitting out.”

The NCAA already has bolstered meal plans and allowed unlimited snacks, which has led some schools to hire chefs for their athletes. It smacks of maneuvers years ago when NCAA schools got in a high-powered “Taj Mahal” competition to see which could construct the most lavish athletic dorm, which is now prohibited.

One slippery issue is cost of attendance, which essentially replaces a stipend. That’s the cost of attending a specific university above the standard, room, board, tuition and fees. That has a complicated set of variables dependent on such things as cost of living, philosophy and the location of the institution. That varies greatly even within major conferences. For some schools, the cost of attendance could mean $10,000 to $20,000 above the normal scholarship. At other schools, it’s several times that. And nobody seems to have a clear handle on how things like Pell Grants fit into the equation.

By UCA’s rules, it can only offer a maximum of about $5,000 cost of attendance adjustment above the normal scholarship, which is about $14,000.

The difference can be staggering. However, UCA rarely competes with the major powers an athlete.

The concern for Teague is the trickle-down effect.

“Cincinnati and Louisville in the American Athletic Conference consider themselves major programs, so what if that conference does some things to compete with the Power 5,” he said. “Then, Conference-USA starts adopting some things, then the Mid-America, then the Mountain West, then the Sun Belt. We compete in recruiting a lot in most sports with Sun Belt schools.”

It’s a balancing act for FCS schools (and other mid-majors) because most have similar economic challenges. They don’t get much revenue from ticket sales or big TV contracts. They have to rely on money games and tournaments in all sports and major donors just to stabilize their place in the pecking order.

If there is no major trickle-down effect from what the Power 5 does, most should be fine.

UCA has been fortunate recently to play football games against teams from Power 5 conferences such as Ole Miss and Colorado. It will open at Texas Tech this season and has a game with Oklahoma State on the future schedule.

How long the major powers will continue to schedule FCS opponents is uncertain. The going payout to an FCS school for playing a major conference team is about $400,000. A few years ago, the going rate for an FCS team to play a FBS opponent from a mid-major conference (such as the Sun Belt) was $150,000. Now, it’s in the $300,000 range.

“Not playing a Power 5 team would have little effect but not nearly as much as in the past since the difference is not as great,” Teague said.

The proposal related to Power 5 autonomy is pretty much a lock for the board of directors to pass on Aug. 7. To override that, like with the stipend, Teague said the remaining 285 Division I schools not in the Power 5 conferences will need a 67 percent vote to override.

Even with a successful override vote, the issue of autonomy for those who have the resources will not go away.

Even though 350 NCAA institutions are Division I (which includes both FBS and FCS football), not all live in the same neighborhood.

And the those in the wealthier neighborhoods want a wall — a big one — and will continue to lay the foundation.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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