SEC commissioner Mike Slive is sure talking tough about the proposed NCAA reforms to benefit the Power Five conferences.
Slive said Friday that if the reforms aren't passed by the NCAA board of directors in August, the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) would form their own division.
The aforementioned reforms include the ability of schools in the power five conferences to change and address full coverage of cost of attendance scholarships, insurance matters, expense coverage and other academic support outside of other NCAA institutions.
If the NCAA Board of Directors approves the proposal (which has been formally recommended), it goes to a full vote in January.
"I think it doesn't pass, I think the next move is to go to a Division 4," Slive said who dropped the bombshell that the power leagues would create a new NCAA division. "It's not something that we want to do. From day one, we said want to stay in Division 1, with the access to championships and a revenue distribution that won't change. But within that structure, we want the ability to have autonomy in areas that has the nexus to the well-being of student-athletes.
Of course, Slive said he was optimistic that the changes would be passed. Likely because threats and pessimism together wouldn't look very cordial.
"You create rules for your division the way you recruit rules for Division 1 and Division 2," Slive said. "Even at Division 4, we'd want to be part of the basketball tournament and all the championships. Division 4 would be alternative to creating autonomy in certain areas.
"We think college athletics and the NCAA is better served if we stay in Division 1."
It's not the first time that a major conference commissioner has brought up the idea of a separate structure, but the first time the topic has been broached since the reforms were recommended by the NCAA board of directors in April. And it's also the first time that it's been brought up since the comments of Boise State president Bob Kustra. Earlier in May, Kustra blasted the proposed changes and said they were spearheaded by Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
But what's best, being in the same sandbox with a different set of rules depending on the occupant or two separate sandboxes?
And is the idea of another division even feasible? That's the million-dollar question and a path that the power conferences would prefer not to go down, hence Slive's hedging. Divisions within the NCAA are controlled by the governing body itself; if the proposal isn't passed, it seems unlikely that the NCAA would sanction a fourth division.
That could mean any separation would have to be a clean break, and while no one thinks the NCAA's system is perfect, setting up a new sanctioning body would be a massive undertaking, even if it provided the power five conferences with all the benefits they wanted.
Florida president Bernie Machen also said he realized how difficult a separation could be while referencing impending litigation against the NCAA and its member schools, most notably the Ed O'Bannon trial set to start June 9 and other cost-of-attendance lawsuits.
“We don’t want to pull out. We would love to be a part of NCAA Division I. But we’re in a squeeze here,” Machen said (via the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer). “We have six lawsuits that name our conference in them, specifically, that have to do with the cost-of-attendance and stuff like that. And yet we would like to make changes, and can’t because the NCAA doesn’t allow us to.”
Though while Slive was optimistic, Machen said he was pessimistic.
"So there are lots of arrows in all directions, and that's why I am somewhat pessimistic about this (being approved)," Machen said. "The whole thing could go up in some if the lawsuit comes down or the unionization rule. The whole intercollegiate model is at risk if we don't do something."
Because of the lawsuits and other variables, like the Northwestern union efforts, there are way too many unknowns to put a bunch of credence into the threats of separation at this point. A lot could change before the vote in three months. But no matter what the ultimate outcome is, the schools at the top of the NCAA heap are going to eventually get what they want.
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