Las Vegas • The issue raised its head this week, but it has been bubbling for years: The nation’s power college football conferences aren’t happy with the NCAA, and could even split off from Division I and form their own alliance.
At Mountain West media day here, opinions differed on if it could happen, potentially leaving non-power conferences out in the cold. But while some veteran coaches worried about a potential split, commissioner Craig Thompson said he doubted it would happen.
MW happy to be back in Utah
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Tuesday that the league was pleased to be back in business in the state of Utah, expressing enthusiasm for new member Utah State. He also said the door remains open for independent BYU — a former MW member — if it ever wants to return.
“To get Utah State and back into the Salt Lake market is going to help us,” Thompson said. “And Utah State has performed really against Utah and BYU in recent years, and we hope they continue that success. … It is important to get a presence in that market.”
Thompson said the conference was not looking for new members at the moment, but said if BYU expressed interest in rejoining, “we would talk to them.”
“They would make us a better league,” he added.
His solution: Fix the NCAA system by allowing big-budget schools to give their athletes stipends.
"What happens when 70 schools break off and form Division Four? Might happen. I don’t think it will happen," Thompson said. "I think there will be a different solution for those people. If they want to give cost-of-attendance stipends, we should allow them to do that."
At the heart of the issue is this: Most of the schools in the ACC, Big-12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 make more money than the rest of the FBS field, and they want to be treated differently.
Although some other conference commissioners have suggested up 70 schools could branch off into a potential "superconference," Thompson said he sees too many obstacles.
"I don’t think a university can unilaterally say, ‘We’re only going to play schools from these five conferences,’" he said. "I think it’s been overstated and overplayed that that’s their endgame. It’s something they might take a look at, but there’s a lot of steps between here and a new division."
Essentially a pay-for-play set-up, stipends are feared to create more imbalances in college football between deep-pocketed schools with budgets 10 times as large as the least-funded athletic departments in Division I. Thompson said it wouldn’t be too much of a change from the current scenario.
"It might be an unequal playing field, but we have that today," he said.
Other Mountain West coaches didn’t share Thompson’s assurance that the NCAA’s divisions would remain intact.
"I’m an old guy, but I am convinced before the end of my lifetime, there’s gonna be a super [division]," Hawaii coach Norm Chow said. "I’ve already talked to the Hawaii Board of Regents about that. What will happen to us [if that happens]?"
Several coaches said the talk of splitting is symptomatic of the long-standing tension between the "big and small" schools. The Mountain West was one of the biggest fighters for a football playoff in the last decade, claiming that the BCS was another way to exclude teams from less prosperous conferences.
With a super division, San Diego State coach Rocky Long said, the power conferences would again widen the gap.
"The BCS started slowly including the rest of us and giving us a piece — a little tiny piece — of the pie," Long said. "Now there’s a movement on for a greater playoff system. The guys who control college football right now, I think they would think that a playoff would only include them."
New Mexico coach Bob Davie said he wasn’t sure that the split would happen, but did say "the buzz is stronger than it’s ever been." But in general, he said, football coaches are leaving the worrying in the hands of presidents and athletic directors.
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