For athletic directors of power conferences the equivalent of the Holy Grail is trying to find a method where they can:
a) create a club consisting only of power conferences,
b) make sure that the only beneficiaries of Division I football are those very power conferences, but
c) somehow remain in the NCAA while doing so.
A recent Tweet message Dan Wolken stated that North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham suggested a new "super" division in NCAA above Division I where the schools involved would sponsor 24 NCAA sports.
On super division, Cunningham suggested funding minimum of 24 varsity sports to be part of it - if schools are truly about opportunities.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) July 22, 2013
John Infante over at AthleticScholarships.net calls this proposed division "Division X". It's such a great name, like the X-Men, so I'm going to borrow it.
A school only needs to sponsor 14 sports presently to remain in Division I. Out of the power conference teams, there are only nine schools now that are sponsoring 24 sports:
ACC: Duke, North Carolina and Virginia
Big 10: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers.
Now we know why Cunningham suggested 24 schools. His school was already there. Even so, it probably wouldn't be that hard for the richer schools to add however many sports it took to get to 24. In most cases, it would be a case of adding extra scholarships rather than building new facilities.
Infante proposes that Division X could require some sports - like football - to be "core sports", sports that every team in the division would have to sponsor in order to retain membership. The only question is where to draw the lines to keep the poor kids out of the cool club.
I don't really think that this would work. Those padded ropes would have to be electrified fences, because soon or later schools would be trying to break into Division X. Willie Sutton said he robbed backs because that's where the money is, and other schools would begin a 24-sport goose chase that would make It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World look tame. The Lawndale States of the world would begin fund raising drives for concrete monolith football stadiums, and ten years down the road the athletic directors of the power conferences would be complaining about those upstarts from Boise State trying to spoil their football playoffs.
Yesterday, Mark Alesia of USA Today stated that NCAA president Mark Emmert agrees with the power conference commissioners. About what?
At issue is the ability of the richest athletic programs — which attract the massive television rights fees — to set policy without the smaller D-I programs stopping them because of financial concerns.
Within the past week, Emmert sent a letter to all D-I presidents, athletic directors, commissioners, faculty athletic representatives and senior woman administrators asking them to save the dates of Jan. 16 and 17 for "an important milestone in which your participation is crucial." The meeting will be held at the same time as the NCAA's annual convention in San Diego.
Commissioners from the five power football leagues — ACC Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC and Pac-12 — all used their recent football media days to say they're tired of waiting for change. Emmert said he discussed the issue at length with the commissioners earlier this month in Colorado, so he wasn't surprised by their recent comments.
I suspect that Cunningham's off-the-cuff statement was a shot across the bow of the NCAA. It means that the power conferences have actually started to give thought as to what their superconference would look like. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said that secession from the NCAA was a "last resort", but it looks like someone has been visiting some options for next-to-last-resorts.
Obviously, a major split from the NCAA would affect women's basketball. Then again, the power conferences virtually rule women's basketball. Oddly enough, it could be that if there were a secession, Connecticut would get shut out and the best program in Division I basketball would suffer the fate of schools like Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion, schools that fell behind in a shifting landscape of money and power.
The idea was floated to allow scholarship athletes to have athletic stipends, but that idea was shot down. The power conferences haven't started to shoot back, but we're getting to that part in the movie where one hears pistol hammers being pulled back and everyone starts staring at each other. Let's hope there's no shooting and that no one gets killed.