John Clay: Power conferences positioned to bring swift change to NCAA

NCAA President Mark Emmert has shown in his organization's decisions on Penn State recently and its distancing from EA Sports that the NCAA isn't the powerful behemoth it once was.
NCAA President Mark Emmert has shown in his organization's decisions on Penn State recently and its distancing from EA Sports that the NCAA isn't the powerful behemoth it once was. ASSOCIATED PRESS

It is no longer a matter of if.

It is a matter of when.

NCAA change is coming. Big change. "Transformative change" as Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby called it this past week. The preparation for separation has begun.

The so-called power conferences aren't plotting an NCAA exit, mind you. That's an avenue of last resort. After the comments of the past couple of weeks, however, it appears a new "Super Division" or "Division 4" is imminent.

The SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 appear to be laying the groundwork toward forming their own division to be ruled for themselves by themselves.

Basketball is not the concern here. The power conferences would like to keep the NCAA Men's Tournament as is. Though its growth has slowed, it still produces buckets of money. The NCAA has the structure in place to run the tournament, plus volleyball, softball, lacrosse, etc. Duplication is inefficient.

Football is a different matter. Football is the treasure chest. Football pays the bills. With that in mind, football schools want to do what football schools want to do.

Last year produced a telling example. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive called for "cost of attendance scholarships" that would effectively give athletes a stipend beyond their scholarships. Citing financial hardship, the non-power conference schools voted the measure down.

Slive called for a four-year scholarship instead of a year-to-year scholarship. The smaller schools said no.

The power schools called for widespread deregulation of recruiting rules. The smaller schools issued a dissent. Under the current NCAA system, in Division I the small-school vote counts just as much as the big-school vote.

Thus, the bigger schools want a different system, one more in tune to their needs. "You can't compare Northern Iowa with Texas," said Bowlsby, who was once the athletic director at Northern Iowa.

The power schools see their opening. NCAA President Mark Emmert's leadership has been weak, at best. The governing body's enforcement division is in disarray after being caught in the cookie jar — basically paying for information — while investigating the University of Miami.

Just last week, ESPN's Outside the Lines published a scathing critique of both Emmert and the NCAA's "questionable practices."

Former employees spoke of "targeting specific head coaches and programs presumed as 'dirty' particularly within a separate in-house group investigating basketball."

(You don't need to be the Mentalist to know what UK basketball fans thought about that.)

There were claims staff members were "sharing and reviewing information about student-athlete academic transcripts at various times with the media, a violation of federal privacy laws."

(Remember, the high school transcript of former UK guard Eric Bledsoe ended up in the hands of the New York Times.)

Emmert claims to be listening. He told the Indianapolis Star, "I didn't take issue with any of the general statements that were made by the commissioners. I thought they were helpful and good contributions to the debate."

His comments sounded more like a plea — a give-me-one-more-chance plea — than a statement of strength.

"There's a need to recognize there are Division I schools with $5 million athletic budgets and $155 million athletic budgets," Emmert told the Star. "Trying to find a model that fits all of them is the enormous challenge right now."

The $155 million schools are tired of being held back by the $5 million schools.

Slive suggested that in subtle tones during the SEC Football Media Days two weeks ago. This past week, Bowlsby at the Big 12 Media Days and John Swofford at the ACC Media Days both turned the heat up a notch.

Swofford went as far as to predict a when, saying a seismic event on the college landscape could happen in the next six months.

It's no longer a matter of if.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader