By an overwhelming 16-2 vote, the NCAA voted today to give its Big 5 conferences – the SEC (a.k.a. the “Football Conference”), the ACC (the “Basketball Conference”), the Pac-12 (the “Nike Conference”), the Big Ten (the “First Conference”) and the Big 12 (“Ringo”) – autonomy, allowing them to create their own rules for 11 explicitly listed areas, such as athlete outside interests, scholarship amounts and insurance. May God have mercy on our souls.
Bob Ryan on today's Big 5 autonomy news: "The NCAA. Born 1910. Died August 7th, 2014. As we knew it, it's over."
— PTI (@PTI) August 7, 2014
The move is subject to approval after a 60-day waiting period, where 75 universities may vote against it, causing the NCAA to reconsider this action (um, yeah), or 125 may disapprove of it and cause the move to be suspended pending the reconsideration. Or in laymen’s terms, it’s a done deal.
So why would the NCAA knowingly give up power to five constituent conferences? First, those conferences have become so successful and flush with money that they’ve threatened to leave the NCAA and start their own group (fill in humorous acronym that spells a synonym for greed, here). Rather than lose their most affluent members, the NCAA is promoting them to the level of oligarchs, which is confirmed by the rule that the other NCAA conferences only have the option of adopting one of the Big 5’s set of rules, not their own.
At first Alabama practice after NCAA Big 5 autonomy vote and noticed a new look for the water boys. pic.twitter.com/fgCFWP0Zd1
— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) August 7, 2014
Second, the NCAA, the conferences and their schools are worried about the very real possibility of an athletic union (the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA) that would force them to make wholesale, equitable changes in these eleven areas. This is straight out of the Bud Selig playbook that says, “Now that Congress is involved, let’s make the appearance of changes so they’ll leave us alone and go back to doing nothing.” This way, the Big 5 may use their expensive lawyers to promulgate rules written to improve their conferences’ leverage for recruiting and championships and still not protect the athletes.
Third, and this one is tricky, by divesting of its power, the NCAA is also divesting itself of responsibility and liability for ills identified by future complaints. Athlete payoffs at Auburn? The SEC has rules about that, so we’ll let them handle it internally. Arrested players at Texas? You’ll need to go through the Big 12 appeals process to punish them civilly. Stipends for Oregon basketball players to wear Nike shorts? That’s Pac-12 policy,but if you want that money, you’ll need to go to a Pac-12 school. In other words, the Big 5 will have as much accountability as a Wall Street Hedge Fund. Or this kid:
Photo via Emory Sports Marketing Analytics
While it’s difficult to predict exactly what effect this autonomy vote will have on athletics (besides causing legions of football players to look up the word “autonomy”), it will likely be similar to repealing Glass-Steagle or choosing Ben Affleck as Batman: the effects will be so disastrous that in the future we will create cyborgs to go back in time and kill whoever was responsible to keep it from happening. I imagine, they’ll look something like this (and, yes, we would all take selfies with them):
So the two parties most likely to be adversely affected by this ruling are the smaller schools in the other NCAA conferences and CAPA. Both of them will be made obsolete if autonomy is implemented before the beginning of the year. To stay alive, CAPA needs to get those 125 votes to delay the implementation, hopefully get a positive result from the appeal, and then claim it has standing to sue NCAA over this rule. Good luck.
David Young has been a columnist for ESPN and Sports Illustrated, and is now one for SportsGrid. Follow him on Twitter @turkeysflying.