Last Modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 8:13 PM
Maybe it wasn’t the Five Families sneaking off for a clandestine meeting in the Adirondacks, but it’s pretty obvious the five big bosses of big-boy college football got together sometime over the summer and at least all got their stories straight.
Most years, it seems, the commissioners of the big five — the SEC, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the ACC and the Pac 12 — don’t agree on much.
The annual July media days tour has seemingly now become the sport’s fifth season — to go along with the regular season, bowl season, recruiting and spring practice — and pretty much complete the calendar.
It’s mostly been filled with juicy Johnny Manziel gossip and a lot of harmless he-said/she-said tattling, along with some delightfully pointed barbs from other conferences aimed at SEC dominance.
But on one important point, the big five conference commissioners might as well have walked arm-in-arm to a single podium.
They want change in the NCAA. They want it now. And they are fed up with being big apples and having the little oranges tell them what they can and can’t do with their programs.
Mike Slive of the SEC, the most powerful man in college athletics, started it when his conference kicked off the media day season. His four counterparts sang basically the same tune the following two weeks.
They’re not talking about tweaking anything. They want to see real, fundamental change in the way the NCAA works and governs itself.
All five seemingly crept right up to the precipice of suggesting that they might break away entirely from the NCAA before they stopped just short of declaring they’d drop the big one and take their ball and go home if they don’t get their way.
“I think everyone knows that,” the Pac 12’s Larry Scott said. “You don’t have to say it. It’s always possible.”
The big boys do have the nukes, so to speak, and that mere threat should be enough, in the end, to save the NCAA, albeit in a greatly altered form.
Some of the big-time schools have athletic budgets well north of $100 million, some as much as $130 million. The bottom-end schools — with, technically, the same voting power as Texas — might be dealing with budgets of a couple million dollars. Even some schools in the lower echelons of Division I often have to get by on $10 million or so for budgets.
They’re playing different games, business-wise, and probably need different regulations.
The difference between the Haves and Have-nots has been growing ever since the BCS started in 1998, and the chasm figures to get even wider when the four-team playoff starts in the 2014 season.
The hot-button item is paying the players for the two revenue sports, football and basketball.
“Please don’t call it play-for-pay,” Slive said when addressing SEC media days.
Then call it a little walking-around money — $3,000, maybe $4,000 a year per player —the full cost of attendance thing.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who by the way would make a very fine commissioner, said that in the SEC the coaches had all agreed that they’d pay the $200,000 or it would cost to pay players out of their own pockets.
They were probably grandstanding, and that’s fine for Spurrier and his brethren, where the salaries range from a low of $2 million to Nick Saban’s $5.3 million per year.
They probably tip that much a year.
Head coaches at the other end of the spectrum would have to take out a loan to make the payroll. It’s obviously not an option for them.
What’s become clear, though, is that one way or another, the big boys are going to get their way.
In the past, perhaps they’d be blocked by more votes from the bottom of the food chain.
But now it’s in the smaller schools’ best interest that the big five get a separate division — Division IV has been a suggestion — rather than breaking away from the NCAA entirely.
If it was just about football, the big five would probably already be gone.
But these are entire athletic departments.
The big question would be, What would happen to basketball? More pointedly, what would happen to the cash cow of the NCAA basketball tournament? The big football schools would also include most of the main hoops movers and shakers, but there are more than a few of the basketball powers that play only token football or none at all.
It would certainly simplify things if the big boys could find a way to keep peace in an NCAA altered for football only.
Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett, for instance, was saying last week that the last thing he wants to do is stand in the way of what Slive and the SEC wants to do for football.
It’s not all about football for Burnett. It’s mostly about basketball.
All Division I schools get a slice of that pie. It’s a nice piece of change for the big schools. For Burnett’s schools in the Southland, it’s a critical piece in funding their struggling budgets.
A complete break could also lead to — as Saban wondered aloud might be a good idea — the elites only playing each other in football. That would deprive the smaller schools of the money games they get for being homecoming opponents, another important source of funding.
NCAA President Mark Emmert has come under a lot of criticism recently, but he’s certainly not stupid. He’s called for a summit meeting among big-school athletic directors before January’s NCAA convention.
Usually these things move slow.
But when they come out of that January convention, I’d be surprised if the NCAA doesn’t look a whole lot different.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org