ATLANTA, Georgia — The middle and lower-tier schools of college athletics — Fresno State, Brigham Young and Memphis, among others — are supposed to be bum-rushed out of big-time football and basketball any month now.
They are not among the 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences that will now make their own rules on student-athlete welfare, and allocation of funds, as per a vote by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Board of Directors on August 7.
The thinking is the bigger conferences — Pac-12, Southeastern, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 — could use their vast television money from regional sports networks and the new College Football Playoff to expand coaching staffs, throw money at recruits with stipends, pay for disability insurance for athletes, and on and on. Smaller revenue schools like Boise State in the Mountain West, UConn in the American Athletic, and other colleges in Conference-USA, Sun Belt and Mid-American would fall further and further behind.
Under this scenario, the big schools could offer full cost of attendance to athletes, a sum between $2,000 and $5,000 that meets expenses outside the athletic scholarship. The smaller schools, with budgets less than 50 percent the $100 million at big schools, would find their finances stressed.
There was even an ESPN survey of the several dozen football coaches in the major conferences in which almost half of respondents said they did not want to play football against schools outside the 65. That would deny significant revenue to the other schools. Ominous news of the Power 65 “breaking away” hovers over the start of the 2014 college football season, with a doomsday split scenario beckoning for the smaller programs.
But a funny thing may happen on the way to the feared demise of those Cinderella schools. Not all of the 65 relatively high-resource schools want to go along with the plan pushed by their brethren from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, and other behemoths with deep pockets. Schools like Wake Forest, Indiana, Syracuse and Pitt may not want to start pumping vast sums into athletics.
“I have talked to athletic directors across the country and they have the same concerns we have,” said Mark Coyle, the athletic director at Boise State, whose football team was in Atlanta on Thursday night to play Mississippi State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. “There are just a handful of [big] schools who want to make some of these changes. Not everybody does.”
There will be 80 voting members (which includes 15 current players) for the Power 5, but there could be voting blocs organized to keep the high-wealth schools from controlling the room. One of the other things the big schools might do is expand the four-team playoff to eight teams at the behest of television moguls, and further erode the mission of the colleges. Yet they cannot do that without support in the room.
Think about the vote strategy. Indiana, in the Big Ten, has an athletic budget of approximately $76 million. Ohio State’s is approximately $140 million. Are the Hoosiers going to allow the Buckeyes, a conference rival, to use superior funds to get further ahead? Suppose a vote comes to the floor about expanding coaching staffs to 12, or allowing additional recruiting staff. Will Minnesota and Illinois side with Ohio State? Doubtful.
Here is one more thing to consider about the demise of schools like Boise State. The Broncos’ wide receiver Matt Miller is a senior from Helena, Montana. He was offered scholarships by Stanford, Arizona State, Arkansas, and Oregon State. Those schools are in conferences with plenty of television money. With a federal judge ruling that schools can give athletes at least $5,000 for every year of eligibility (to be paid when they leave school) and also money to meet full cost of attendance (which could be $2,000 to $5,000 a year), Miller could pocket an extra $40,000 by going to an SEC or Pac-12 school. Boise might not be able to match that.
“I’d still go to Boise,” Miller said. “I can go and work as much as I can, as a ranch hand, to get money. The atmosphere around our program and school makes a lot of difference. Going to another school just for the money would not be for me.”
The atmosphere around our program and school makes a lot of difference. Going to another school just for the money would not be for me.