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Steve Luhm and Lya Wodraska
Steve Luhm and Lya Wodraska cover Utah State athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. Lya Wodraska is on twitter at @LyaWodraska, Steve Luhm is on twitter at @sluhm

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Latest developments in collegiate athletics could put many sports in jeopardy

None of Utah State's school officials, including athletic director Scott Barnes, were available to comment on Thursday's vote that gives the power conferences autonomy. The silence isn't much of a surprise since most expect the gap to grow between the power conferences and other leagues, including the schools in the Mountain West Conference.

Really, there isn't much of a positive spin the small schools can say about the current situation. Best to move forward and see just how the autonomy might affect them.

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The Big 5 conferences (SEC, Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12) are expected to submit new rules by Oct. 1, which will then be considered at the 2015 NCAA convention in January.

Expected to proposed are raising funds to "full cost of attendance" for scholarships instead of just scholarships that cover tuition, room and board.

The gap could range from $2,000 to more than $5,000 per scholarship, according to many estimates.

The Aggies have started the process of determining just how much of a financial burden they could be under, putting together a task force to see if they can afford to offer cost-of-attendance funds as well as health benefits.

But it doesn't take a task force to know if the Aggies want to keep their presence in college athletics on the rise, they are going to have to find the funds somewhere if the measures go through as expected.

Schools have a 60-day period in which to express concerns over the autonomy measures. If 75 disapprove, the board will reconsider its decision. If 125 schools object, the measures will be suspended and reconsidered.

Even if enough schools object and block the latest vote, the actions would likely just be a mere road block in the "Big 5's" way of gaining autonomy.

A greater fear for the smaller schools is the prospect that the larger conferences would break away from the current NCAA organization as it stands now, taking with them the majority of the revenue from TV contracts, bowl ties, etc.

Best then, to loosen the reins on the bigger schools and see just how much of a gap the smaller ones can afford to survive.

As MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said at the MWC media meetings, it looks like a stormy time ahead for collegiate athletics.

So what exactly does it mean for schools like Utah State? Certainly there will be some hardships as schools search for funds to try to match the enticements of the larger schools.

Already it's challenging enough for the Aggies to compete with larger schools such as BYU and Utah for recruits, can you imagine if the Aggies can't offer the same value of scholarships as those larger schools?

Unfortunately, the sports that are likely to suffer the most are the so-called Olympic sports. Let's face it, schools often fund these sports out of Title IX requirements. Few manage to break even, much less add revenue to the coffers.

Take Utah's gymnastics team for example. The Utes are arguably one of the most successful women's programs in collegiate sports history, but has never been a revenue producer. If a 10-time national championship winning team and one of the biggest draws in women's sports can't make money, where is the incentive to keep minor sports?

In the past it was for Title IX and because it was the right thing to do, but those reasons might not be good enough for athletic directors in the future as they search for ways to fund other larger, more potentially generating sports.

Now, with increasing financial demands, schools might be forced to make sweeping cuts of both men and women's minor sports such as tennis, gymnastics, baseball and softball because they need the funds to support football, the sport that often brings the most exposure and revenue to schools.

Tough times are ahead for sure, but particularly for the smaller schools and the smaller sports.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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