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The Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten on Big Five Conference Autonomy

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany discuss Big Five Conference autonomy.

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Sounds Like Everyone is Working Together. I think I should have known better.  We have Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany involved in this USA Today story and then we have Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby in this USAToday story and they all talk about the autonomy of the Big Five conferences.  It hit me like a ton of bricks a few weeks ago when Delany talked about autonomy for the Big Five conferences. It just made sense to simply drop the NCAA and move on their merry way, allow the NCAA to take the hit in terms of lawsuits and try to start over:

You only have to read between a couple of lines to see that Delany is even indicating when a split will happen. Multiple times, Delany mentions a time frame of five to seven years to get Division I restructured, reform it to the liking of the power conferences, and let outside reform efforts like the wave of lawsuits play out. That is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the average time between governance reforms in Division I over the last 20 years or so. With plenty of practice at performing the NCAA's core functions, public criticism dying down after a tumultuous period, ability to reshape Division I exhausted and potentially needing major changes to pay for the result of lawsuits and unionization efforts, leaving the NCAA barely seems like a choice.

This wasn't about the Big Ten vs. the Pac-12 vs. the Big 12 vs. the SEC vs. the ACC, this maybe is the first time that these conference commissioners have gotten together to formulate a comprehensive plan:

The five power conferences are seeking decision-making powers in funding the full cost of scholarships, handling health care and other areas involving their athletes. Other changes under consideration include providing money for families to travel to NCAA tournaments, more resources for academic and career counseling, creating mandatory break times from sports and relaxing transfer rules.

Scott said he doesn't expect much pushback on the issue from schools in small and mid-major conferences. Asked if the autonomy initiative could create a bigger divide between conferences, Scott said most collegiate leaders - even those from non-major conferences - believe that idea is outdated.

"One size fits all doesn't work anymore," Scott said. "The conferences that can afford to and want to do more for student-athletes ought to be able to do it. I'd be a little surprised if that view were still out there."

And before anyone says that Bowlsby and the Big 12 are taking a back-seat to anyone else, well according to Ralph D. Russo (he's a writer for the Associated Press and it's just one guy, but his thoughts are interesting), Bowlsby may be the de facto president for the Big Five:

In the article referencing Bowlsby, I think it's interesting that he's addressing Delany's and Scott's autonomy thoughts as something that he doesn't think will happen now, but if the Big Five don't get what they want, well . . .

"We've tried to legislate competitive equity and it really has never existed," he said. "We win more than 90 percent of the national championships in those 65 schools, and it's been that way for a very long time. That's not to say they're not doing great things at a lot of those other universities. We just have to, on this occasion, vote an enlightened self-interest."

Bowlsby reiterated, as have his peers at various times over the last year, that the Big Five conferences have attempted to make changes while remaining within the existing Division I umbrella rather than "much more draconian approaches" like creating a separate subdivision or a complete breakaway from the NCAA. As for Kustra's assertion that the changes are being driven by the Big Five commissioners rather than school presidents?

"The steering committee has been driven by presidents," Bowlsby said. "The discussion in my conference and the other conferences is being driven by presidents. I just think our presidents disagree with his position."

It's interesting to see that Bowlsby is maybe being the voice of restraint here.  Noting that he really doesn't want to drive the Big Five conferences away from the NCAA, but it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

One other thing about the NCAA and whether or not to scrap it, I think it would be incredibly tough for the Big Five conferences to amass a legal fund and war chest similar to the NCAA's.  Whatever changes are going to be made by the Big Five it won't stop the lawsuits because players will be easily convinced that they can simply sue and be a part of a greater lawsuit and make some money.  Generally speaking, you can find at least one person to be litigious.

The NCAA offers a pretty big shield from the Big Five, including the thought that Mark Emmert is doing just fine taking the brunt of any and all bad press as a result of the NCAA's prior actions or current actions or really just anything.

The NCAA is almost like when I advise a client that there are benefits to creating a LLC or corporation for limited liability protection.  It's a shield of sorts and right now, the NCAA is taking all of the arrows hurled the way of the colleges, who were, merely, acting in accordance with NCAA rules.