Watchdog Study Backs Idea Of Football-Only Superconference

An independent study, delivered yesterday to the desks of Mark Emmert and the NCAA D1 board of directors, finds that "changes are needed to restore integrity" to college athletics. No shit, study.

Let's be clear: the Knight Commission is completely independent of the NCAA, and as such the NCAA is under no obligation to even hear them out, let alone put into action any of the commission's recommendations. But this latest study took 18 months to complete, and was undertaken with the input of dozens of athletic directors, conference commissioners, and other D1 executives, so it can't be ignored.

The full memorandum of the study's findings is posted at bottom. From the conclusion:

Nearly all respondents expressed serious concern that the quest for revenue in Division I is undermining academic and institutional ideals. The escalating expenses in college football were specifically cited as causing extreme financial stress on programs that do not generate enough external revenue to cover expenses, resulting in funds being transferred from other sports and from the academic enterprise.

The overarching conclusion of the Commission is that changes are needed to restore integrity to an aspect of university life that is treasured by the American public. Much more can and must be done to reform the governance of college athletics and its financial model to strengthen its core educational and developmental goals.

The study has three recommendation:

  • Put independent experts onto the NCAA Executive Committee and D1 Board of Directors; The current members all have financial stakes in the matters they're deciding.
  • Rein in management of the bowl games; The current postseason revenue is "fragmented," and can lead to disasters like the Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Instead, the commission urges that less of the money go into the pockets of the people operating the bowl games, and more "to directly support athletes’ educational experiences."
  • Change the current distribution of revenue; The commission says the current model contains "distorted incentives," and more money should go to programs that give priority to education.

But the most interesting part of the study isn't listed as a recommendation—instead, it comes under the heading of "Ideas that merit further study."

A new NCAA subdivision for football only for institutions in the five major conferences (“Big 5”) and other institutions that meet specific revenue-generating criteria

The independent study explored the question of whether members of the “Big Five” conferences and other institutions that meet financial criteria should be moved to a separate subdivision or division within the NCAA for football or all sports, a major topic recently in the media. Many study respondents clearly believed that, given the complexity of issues involved in such governance changes, this alternative and the other options posed would require careful thought and discussion. However, on balance, this idea gained the most traction among all of the alternative models outlined.

While the Commission did not reach a consensus on this idea, it agreed further study should be considered for a new NCAA subdivision for football only to better understand the implications of such a change.

This is where college sports are inevitably heading, even if it'll only get there by force of natural economic pressures rather than because of a watchdog's report. It doesn't make financial sense for the SEC, the Pac-12, the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the ACC to be subsidizing the likes of the Sun Belt and and Conference USA. (It doesn't make sense for those athletes in the Big Five conferences to be subsidizing everyone, but whatever.)

Here's the Knight Commission's memorandum: