In a shock to absolutely no one the NCAA recently gave the “Power Five” conferences full autonomy to do their own thing. The Power Five consists of the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Southeastern, and Atlantic Coast Conferences which makes up 64 of the 125 Division One football schools. Once you factor in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who are now an ACC affiliate, it is a total of 65 schools. The other 60 schools are in the process of now becoming the Washington Generals of the college football world. The Power Five will now be able to offer stipends to players and insurance benefits while also having their own recruiting rules. The conferences outside of the Power Five will have the opportunity for the same rules, but without the same funding it will be tough for them to execute the same model. There is already a tenacious gap between the Power Five and everyone else in college football and it is set to get ever larger.
In 1991 there were 10 D-1 football conferences with 18 schools acting a football independents. But in 1992, the University of Arkansas and the University of South Carolina would join the SEC pushing the 10-school conference to 12 schools. The SEC was able to branch off into two divisions of six teams which allowed them to have a conference championship game that provides more revenue to its institutions. By 2010 there were 11 football conferences in Division One with five conference title games and only three football independents. Now there are 10 football conferences , three football independents, and a whopping seven conference championship games with another coming next year when the Navy Midshipmen will become a football member of the American Athletic Conference. Notre Dame is technically a football independent, but it is tough to recognize them as one since they will now play five games against ACC schools each year.
Unlike the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament where there is a field of 68 teams with 32 automatic qualifiers which includes the lower-tier Division One conferences, the new college football playoff that is set to begin this season is going to leave the schools from the non-power conferences in the dust as it would now take a miracle for them to be able to participate in the playoff. The days of the Boise State Broncos capping off an undefeated season with a victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl or the BYU Cougars winning the national championship in college football are going to be a thing of the past. Instead you’re going to consistently see the Alabama’s, Florida State’s, and Ohio State’s of the college football world get all of the glory.
In college basketball the thing that makes “March Madness” as exciting as it is are the upsets that the tournament is able to produce. I am not suggesting that we should see a 64-team tournament in college football, but the teams from the non-Power Five should be allowed to get a piece of the pie. Some football coaches from the Power Five conferences want exclusive schedules where they will only play schools from those five conferences. Regardless if that notion passes or not, the end result that you are going to have is that some football programs and in some cases athletic departments altogether will cease to exist due to the fact that the smaller universities will come up short as far as funding goes. The smaller colleges and universities are compensated when they travel to take on the “big boys” of the college football world and the money that they receive is vital to their survival. The smaller schools will also miss out on the millions of dollars that the new college football playoff will generate.
The Power Five receive lucrative television contracts from the likes of ESPN, CBS, and Fox. The Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences already have their own networks with the SEC ready to follow suit in a few days. To take it a step further the Texas Longhorns are the first and only school to have their own network. The rich will get richer as these avenues will continue to produce millions for the schools while also benefiting them on the recruiting trail as well.
Anytime that the divide between the rich and poor becomes to vast a society will crumble and the college football world is headed down that same path. The effects can already be seen as the Big East and Western Athletic Conferences now longer function as football conferences. The problem is that the powers to be such as conference commissioners, school presidents, and athletic directors have failed to realize it and address it.