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Power 5 Autonomy Is Not The Death Knell For Anyone; Not Yet

Predictably, many Cincinnati fans headed for their newest bridge when the news that the NCAA has decided to grant more autonomy to power 5 schools. There is no reason to step off that bridge, because the decision made today is one that has been in the work for years, and because the Bearcats and the AAC have elected to agree to whatever new rules the power 5 put forward.

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Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The very word "autonomy" has become a loaded gun when it comes to college sports, but the sinister overtones and dire predictions that have surrounded this discussion sort of miss the point. Of all the schools that participate in division one athletics the Bearcats are very comfortably in the top 25 percent when it comes to revenue and expenses. I have heard so many people talk about how the changes to come will price the Bearcats out of competing at the highest level. Anyone making that claim has never laid eyes on USA Today's college finances database*. The Bearcats sure as hell aren't among the elites when it comes to making money, but they are making vastly more money than the majority of schools included.

* Its worth pointing out that the database does not include data from private universities which are exempt from freedom of information requests which is, for the most part, how USA Today compiles their data.

So the notion that agreeing to meet some of the terms set out by the power 5 schools is going to bankrupt the University of Cincinnati athletic department is way off base. Just as the idea that autonomy is going to result in the blue bloods going around making it rain on everyone is off base. What the NCAA agreed to enact was not a form of Somali capitalism in which actors in the marketplace won't be constrained by regulation of any form. What is actually happening is the enactment of a few sensible and, in my opinion, long overdue reforms.

The big bullet points are as follows

  • Full Cost Scholarships
  • Four Year Scholarships
  • Educational Trusts
  • Changes to rules governing family benefits and agents interaction

For a more complete rundown of those issues, and really everything else pertinent to this discussion, follow this link. I don't personally have an issue with any of this. The majority of it strikes me as being common sense, but I know that view is not universally held.

I also reject the idea that the policies that will be enacted by the power 5 schools will be exclusionary to those not in a monied conference. Every school and conference has the option to opt into the new system. Mike Aresco has already stated that the AAC will adapt whatever changes are proposed by power 5 schools.

"Our conference membership supports the new governance model and the opportunities it will present to enhance the student-athlete experience and student-athlete welfare. Our presidents and athletic directors are steadfast in their commitment to these ideals and also to providing our student-athletes with the ability to compete at the highest level of collegiate athletics."

This entire issue is being hyped as a revolutionary step forward towards the eventual disillusionment of the NCAA as a governing body, but that's misses the mark. This is more evolutionary than revolutionary. It is simply not possible for the NCAA and their member institutions to sit on their cartoonish sacks of money and pretend that they don't owe the players a cut of that income. The cognitive dissonance just became to great to to bear any longer.

This won't dramatically tilt the field of play towards to power five schools either. It will simply codify the existing wealth gap between the 50 or so most profitable departments and the rest of the country. It will not erase the parity that has become the calling card and most celebrated feature of college basketball and, to a lesser extent, college football. Capping scholarships at 85 for football, and 13 for basketball is still the smartest thing the NCAA has ever done, and it won't be undone by autonomy, because it is not a topic that is even allowed to be addressed by the power 5.

In the near to short term the effect of autonomy will be barely felt. Its being talked about as if it is a shockwave, and one time event that is going to capsize everything around it and change the field on which schools compete. But because so many of the schools at the higher end of the group of 5 knew this was coming they had the chance to get ahead of it. This new structure is going to change how the games are played, but I don't think there is going to be a ton of drama coming from this. This isn't a seismic event the way that Nebraska to the Big 10 was.