Autonomy a Game Changer in College Athletics

ncaaA lot could be taken from the award of autonomy for the Power 5 conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big-12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference) in college athletics.

On one hand, autonomy is viewed as a victory for student-athletes.  Autonomy grants the Power 5 the ability to to award those athletes cost of attendance, improved long-term health care and guaranteed four-year scholarships.  The value of those athletic scholarships its schools hand out to cover costs beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees.

On the other hand, autonomy is viewed as something that will widen the gulf between the “haves” (Power 5 conferences) and the “have nots” (the so-called “Group of 5”).  Critics will be quick to say that schools from the “Group of 5” (Mid-American Conference, American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mountain West) will not be able to keep up with the Clemsons, Florida States, Alabamas, Auburns, Oregons, and Notre Dames (considered a “Power 5” school thanks to its affiliation with the ACC).

Either way, I think this will be fascinating as hell.

First of all, I think it would affect recruiting immensely.  Just imagine if Nick Saban comes into a kid’s living room promising a guaranteed four-year scholarship that will also put an extra thousand or more in his pocket.  A rep from, say Marshall, could not compete with that.  Or, in an example that hits close to home, reps from East Carolina trying to compete with reps from UNC, Clemson, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, or NC State (my Wolfpack are so bad, so maybe NCSU is not the best example).

Schools from the “Group of 5” cannot compete with the power conferences’ prestige is one thing.  Competing with the power conferences’ wealth is another.

Another thing to think about is how this would affect other sports at even the bigger universities.

It’s obvious that this autonomy ruling affects football and basketball the most.  After all, those sports are the money-makers at most universities.

For schools in the Group of 5, there is only so much money to go around.  If they want to compete with the big boys from the Power 5 conferences, they have to do what they have to do to keep up.  That may mean cutting other sports.  I could easily see volleyball, tennis, and track and field getting the ax at some of those schools.  In some cases, baseball and softball may end up on the chopping block.

The situation at Maryland shows that even schools in the wealthier conferences are not immune to cutting sports, especially if their financial houses are not in order.  While Maryland’s troubles were due to gross financial mismanagement (thank you Debbie Yow), other smaller schools in the fold such as Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Northwestern could still be on the short end – mainly because those schools are small private schools.

Another thing to consider is how this will affect the Title IX sports.  Shouldn’t female athletes receive the same financial perks as the football, basketball and in some cases baseball players receive?  Schools in that predicament may resort to the same sport cutting to make ends meet for women’s sports.  And know this: no school would even dare cut the women’s sports.  That is a Gloria Allred-led lawsuit waiting to happen.

Either way, however autonomy affects college sports as we know it is going to be intriguing as hell to watch.  It’s too early to tell, but I think the gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” have gotten a helluva lot wider.

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