An NCAA proposal would give the five biggest conferences a chance to make their own rules, a nod to the revenue their football and basketball programs produce and their need to help players close the gap between the worth of a scholarship and the price of attending college.
Those conferences, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, all have major football programs and reaped huge payouts as part of the BCS, which is being replaced by a four-team playoff system starting next season. In almost every case, football revenue pays the bills for athletic programs that often field close to 20 teams. All those, except for football and men’s basketball, are often considered “non-revenue-producing” sports.
The schools with smaller football programs operate on much slimmer margins. For instance, the Mountain West Conference has football teams and some stake in the new college playoff but the teams and their conferences don’t have the same lucrative TV contracts as those in the biggest leagues.
A look at the pecking order in college sports:
THE BIG BOYS: The ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC have all been expanding in recent years, while the Big 12 has had teams poached from its league but has worked hard to stay in the mix. Eleven years ago, the ACC was considered a great basketball conference with a few good football teams. Seeing where the future was, it started asking others with big-money football programs — Syracuse, Boston College and Louisville — to join. That triggered huge realignment across the country.
THE NEXT TIER: The Mountain West, Conference USA and Mid-American Conferences are examples in this group. They play football but don’t make nearly as much money as the biggest conferences. Their basketball programs are among the so-called “mid-majors.” Their football programs are eligible for the new playoff and often find themselves in BCS bowl games, but only if their ranking is high enough.
EVERYONE ELSE: There are the 22 Division I conferences that don’t play football. Examples: Missouri Valley Conference, Big East. These conferences have little interest in adopting rules that would force more expenses on them — say, paying stipends to players. In any negotiation about rules changes, they have leverage, because they make up what many people consider the heart and soul of the NCAA basketball tournament. Almost every underdog that’s done well — Butler, Wichita State, Gonzaga — comes from this group and helps make March Madness what it is: An event that generates around $750 million in TV revenue every year.