It’s been a long time coming.
Today, the NCAA officially approved giving the “Power 5” conference autonomy, allowing the programs already at the top of the college sports world to create new rules that will undoubtedly help keep themselves there.
Fans of smaller conferences are crying foul. “This is going to stunt any possible growth for smaller schools,” someone said to me on Twitter.
No seriously. Why?
The OVC’s isn’t competing for fans from the Pac 12. They’re not trying to draw Michigan State fans to Nashville. Even the SEC isn’t a direct competitor, except for a pair of teams in Nashville. If those conferences get stronger, get better, why does that mean the OVC is going to get worse, or their growth stunted.
The biggest concern fans seem to be having is this: Power 5 schools will be able to provide players with more than smaller schools: More food, more money, more gear.
Hate to break it to everyone, but this is already happening. It’s happening in the form of bigger gyms and weight rooms, elegant locker rooms that can rival professional teams. This year, The NCAA had adopted an “unlimited snacks” rule, which smaller schools can’t, and won’t afford.
“No one will come to a smaller school,” I’m repeatedly told.
If you truly believe that, you’re telling me that a third string quarterback at Miami, who has dreams of playing in professional football one day, is going to stay with the Hurricanes because he gets a free buffet after practice; a practice he spends most of his time on the sidelines watching the two QB’s ahead of him. You’re telling me that a point guard from Alabama is going to play 2-3 minutes a game in the SEC, instead of being the star of a city in the midwest because he gets a check for $100 a week.
You’re telling me that every 18-year old in the nation is out only for what’s best for them now, not what’s best for their future.
I don’t share your cynicism.
If the OVC were the American Conference, or the Mountain West — a conference on the outside of the Power 5 looking in, I’d be worried. Those schools believe they can compete with the Big XII, and now they’re reliant on the NEC and MAAC to pass rules to stay competitive.
But the OVC isn’t on the outside looking in. They’re just on the outside, and the conferences they do compete with — the Missouri Valley, the SWAC, are there with them. That’s where the OVC looks to seek a competitive balance.
Just because the “Power 5” conferences have autonomy, doesn’t mean that the other conferences will stand still. Just as always has been the case, the NCAA can change rules across all conferences. If the Power 5 adopts a rule that everyone likes, they can vote it in, just as they always have. The Power 5 gets rid of dead periods? The other conferences can join them. The Power 5 loosens rules for players talking to agents? The other conferences can join them.
Ultimately, the smaller conferences still control their own fate. If I’m wrong about “pay-for-play,” if it becomes such an overwhelming competitive advantage that the smaller conferences couldn’t possibly overcome without it, they can adopt it, and leave it up to the schools to find the money. There’s nothing stopping the smaller conferences from adopting every rule the Power 5 chooses to.
The survival of the smaller conferences rests now on their own shoulders. And like almost any organization, they’re going to do what it takes to do so.
That’s why I’m not worried about conferences like the OVC. Sure, it’s a changing world. The have’s are about to make changes to ensure they’re always the have’s.
But it’s not the “have not’s” that need worry.
It’s the “nearly have’s.”
The OVC isn’t there. And because of that, I think they’ll be just fine.