Hoover, Ala. — The passage from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was only about 40 words. But it sent a very powerful message to open the conference’s annual Football Media Days:
“If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student-athletes.”
Slive, a former judge who still calls himself “a recovering lawyer,” chose his words carefully but the meaning was clear: For years, the five largest conferences in college athletics have worked within the NCAA system for change. They want the autonomy to provide a series of benefits to improve the quality of life for their athletes.
The time for debate is over. It is time — past time, in fact — to act.
Failure to act— and these are my words, not his — will result in something very, very ugly as the big schools could be forced to go off on their own, leaving the NCAA behind.
Nobody wants that. I have called it the nuclear option because the schools would have to blow up the entire system and start over.
The next big date in this process is Aug. 7 when the NCAA Board of Directors, made up college presidents, will vote on a proposal that outlines what this change would look like. It is expected to pass. Even if it passes, the rest of the Division I membership can veto and overturn the decision if it can get enough votes.
In December of 2011, a $2,000 stipend for scholarship athletes that had been approved by the board, was suspended and ultimately overturned because of the smaller schools said they couldn’t afford it. It was the tipping point in the power struggle that eventually led us to Slive’s statement on Monday.
The small schools cannot have a similar uprising this time because it would not be pretty.
How does this affect you, the fan? What if the 64 schools in the Big Five conferences decided they were only going to play each other? What would the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament be worth if those 64 schools went off and had their own tournament where everybody gets in?
Slive’s suggestion that the big schools would have to seek another “venue” to realize their goals is going to be unsettling to some people in the college athletics community. He’ll get some pushback.
But this day of reckoning has been put off long enough. Now that the millions generated by college athletics has become billions, the institution must change before a judge steps in and forces change.
“We are not deaf to the din of discontent across collegiate athletics that has dominated the news,” Slive said.
Then he quoted Dwight Eisenhower: “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.”
The man is serious.