There has been a lot of talk about the creation of a "Division 4," in college athletics, to accommodate the needs of the largest earners and spenders in big time college sports. Now, the concept is beginning to take better shape, and the first formal proposal for a split has been made public. The Division I-A Faculty Athletics Representatives (FAR) released a proposal to form a new division within the NCAA.
Initial speculation ranged from the BCS schools leaving the NCAA structure entirely, separating into their own division to forming a new football-only subdivision within Division I. The proposal produced by FAR suggest something between the final two options.
This proposal outlines a plan in which the majority of schools and conferences currently in Division I-FBS would separate from the FCS and non-football schools within Division I of the NCAA and form a new division. In many of the non-football sports, however, it is envisioned that these football schools would also participate in the post-season competitions as the FCS and non-football schools.
The purpose of the split is for the schools earning the most revenue and with the most spending power in Division I to be able to play under a different set of rules. Previous plans to offer stipends to cover the full cost of attendance for Student-Athletes that were put forward by those BCS schools were tabled by the NCAA well over a year ago, when more than 160 schools — mostly smaller athletic programs — objected.
As the proposal states:
[T]he FBS must be the master of its own fate, particularly with regard to matters of enhancement of the student-athlete experience that depend on increased revenue allocation.
The FAR proposal goes into details on governance and structure of the new division, but more interesting,The new division proposed would create a harder line in football and a blurred line in the other sports, essentially.
The FAR board supports a new division, "more closely aligned in resources dedicated to athletics programs and in types of issues faced," according to FAR president Brian Shannon, a Texas Tech law professor.
"There is wide consensus that the current Division I governance model is not working," said Jo Potuto, Nebraska constitutional law professor and past president of the I-A FAR. "A separate FBS division offers more streamlined governance among schools with comparable revenue streams."
For football, it's the end of the I-A/FBS and I-AA/FCS designations, essentially. In the other sports, the BCS schools and perhaps most of the rest of FBS would have their cake and eat it too; they would play for the same NCAA titles in basketball and other sports, but do so under a different set of rules, that won't be available to the schools left behind in Division I.
The move, thus far, is being driven by FBS football interests, particularly those of the schools in the five-highest revenue conferences. The proposal produced today was non-committal about the inclusiveness of the new division, though it would seem like the proposal intends to exclude. The FAR wrote that one of the reasons for a separate division for FBS football schools was the relative ease for other Division I institutions to move up from I-AA (which is, ironically, a move that was subject to an only-recently ended moratorium and new, more restrictive rules).
An FBS remaining as part of Division I is less likely to maintain its integrity over time as a separate voting entity and would likely be unable to avoid the experience under the current governance structure in which institutions and conferences with very different resources and facing either different issues, or the same issues but in different degrees of acuteness, were able to move to Division IA or Division I FBS, thereby recreating the need for a separate FBS voice.
For the new Big East conference, a move like this would potentially be a blow to momentum that is being built up in basketball already. The recruiting successes of conference schools that have been made since the league was announced could be negated in the future by a new division that can offer basketball athletes a stipend or full-cost of attendance.
That, however, hasn't been determined yet, and the FAR proposal may not be the only one or the final one.
"Obviously, there is a fair amount of debate concerning the governance issue, and we are starting to see various constituents/stakeholders staking out their positions on the matter," Villanova AD Vince Nicastro wrote to VUhoops. Those constituents include the Division I-A Athletic Directors and NACDA, who have not publicized any recommendation just yet.
The premise that changes to Division I governance needs to be discussed, however, is one that Villanova seems to accept. Particularly the ability to offer "some greater autonomy and flexibility" to the schools "at the top of the food chain," and specifically at the highest level of football.
"I think we all would like some flexibility to make decisions on a sport-specific basis from time to time. We [the Big East] want to compete at the national level across a number of sports, so our objective as a conference will be to stay aligned with them (the Big 5 conferences) as much as possible."
Indeed, Villanova and the Big East will be looking for a way to stay at the table when it comes to the highest levels of basketball. Partially due to their current hold on that status, and perhaps more importantly, to ensure that the ever-important media dollars continue to flow in from the likes of Fox Sports.
The next big date to circle on this debate will be the NCAA's convention in January. There, Nicastro expects a number of proposals and models for change — to include the FAR model that was released recently — to be put on the table for discussion. After that convention, the picture of where the NCAA's top division is heading should become clearer.