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Should the Power 5 Break Away From the NCAA?

(image courtesy of Kirby Lee (USA Today / Reuters)

Written by: Joseph Yun

‘Tis the question for the powers that rule the world of college athletics. Should the P5 band together and break away from an increasingly archaic and outmoded NCAA? Can COVID-19 provide the fuel to accelerate such a drastic power shifting move? What are the pros and cons of a move that would forever change the face of collegiate athletics as we know it?


1. Streamlined, justifiable policies and enforcement of aforementioned policy

- Let’s just say that I have more faith in a completely partisan Congress to get more things done than the NCAA can. Historically, the NCAA has been an utterly contemptible, reprehensible, “biased” organization that dabbles in nonsensical and farcical investigative skullduggery. If the Power 5 breaks away, they would effectively eliminate such issues by making the rulebook more simple. To wit, in order to prevent unseemly and untoward bias accusations, cases would go to an independent arbitrator than a final ruling from a Court of Arbitration of Sport styled model.

2. “NIL rights” and other such instances of player empowerment

- As the forefathers (yes I’m calling it that even though it was just a few years ago) of athlete empowerment, Northwestern football’s attempts at unionization was onto something. It’s time for this current generation to step up and take the baton. We’ve already seen Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and Oklahoma State running back Chubba Hubbard lead the way, forcing some change in how athletes have gained more voice.

The NCAA has been very reluctant (to put it mildly) in being proactive in the discussion over image likeness compensation for athletes. So much so that federal and state intervention was necessary to push things through. Without the quite frankly dubious repute of the NCAA amateurism model, the P5 would be free and clear to “negotiate” their own “compensation” packages with players over the table. No one equipped with a functioning mind believes that all programs are “clean” and play by the current set of rules regarding benefits.

We are in an era of player “free agency” via the transfer portal and the true to form, the NCAA has been maddeningly inconsistent. By breaking with the organization, the conferences would definitely have to establish a panel to decide these matters in an expeditious manner.

3. Profitability

- Without the NCAA hoarding the profits from its vast revenue streams, it opens more doors for a massive profit margin for the P5, which might be necessary for some programs to survive the pandemic. They would be free and clear to negotiate their own TV deals, particularly in football. This profit would also be seen with more “primetime” must-see tv games instead of scheduling “lesser” competition aka glorified scrimmages. More money = more profits for everyone involved including players. All the NCAA would be left with is fending for the Group of 6.

4. “Stable and coherent leadership”

- The NCAA isn’t exactly a bastion of capable leadership willing to take emphatic and total command, particularly beyond hopeful and self-serving statements about COVID19. What college athletics need is a “czar” type of figure with an actual backbone to rule over the P5 commissioners and manage things. Instead, the current model is consistently ham-handed in an effort to project an aura of leadership and the ability to comprehend what it's actually doing. This hasn’t been more clear than during the pandemic when the message wasn’t unified until recently (when it is far too late) and the conferences were left to their own devices in managing the guidelines. Already, we’ve seen sniping between the SEC and Big Ten in lieu of the latter’s decision to go to a conference only schedule. With a college sports czar, that simply doesn’t happen.


1. “What’s next?”

- Like any startup business, going out into the wilderness by yourself is always an adventure full of harrowing tales fraught with risk and calamity. Can a proposed venture get off the ground running instead of turning into the wild west of SMU level lawlessness before things get reined in? Even though it is an unhappy marriage of convenience, there’s something to be said about organizational “stability”.

2. The downsizing of lower-level college football

- With the pandemic already threatening to utterly ruin the lower levels of football fiscally, the potential is very real to bear witness to the reduction and outright cutting of FBS programs. If the Power 5 will likely have issues resuscitating their finances, how much damage will be inflicted on those FCS programs reliant on “payday” games to fund entire athletic departments? Also, a clean break from the NCAA will result in even bigger disparities between the haves and have nots in the FBS. It will likely end up being the ruination of the Group of 6 as we know it due to a lack of scheduling options and spending power. Like a thriving national economy, there needs to be a strong middle class with fiscal ability to power the entire division.


In summation, with all factors considered, the Power 5 should break away from the NCAA and form a joint coalition. The very survival of the lower half of the Power 5 may even require it barring some unlikely foresight by the NCAA to bail them out. Real-life history can serve as a guide in the world of sport. Sure, the good times were fulfilling (pre-COVID) but as the Great Depression and the 2008 Great Recession taught us, the bull market doesn’t last forever. In an era where belts have to be tightened and sacrifices must be made, looking out for oneself is an absolute must within the Power 5 collective. It would serve as a groundbreaking and historical marker if the P5 can unify. In closing, I leave you with a pair of quotes from the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu to interpret this possible forthcoming change, “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” and “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”



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