By Parrish Alford
DESTIN, Fla. – For all the peace and harmony expressed by SEC members regarding proposed NCAA restructuring – the buzz word is autonomy – there is a nuclear option.
The NCAA board of governors will vote in August on whether the most powerful conferences will be able to have more say in setting policy that would affect all of Division I.
If the vote doesn’t go the way the big conferences want SEC commissioner Mike Slive suggested Friday at the close of the league’s spring business meetings that it’s possible the largest schools could form their own division. He called it “Division IV.”
In theory, the big schools would govern themselves at that point.
“From Day 1, we’ve said the NCAA is the appropriate umbrella for intercollegiate athletics,” Slive said. “Everything we’ve done and talked about has been within the context of being in the NCAA. We want to be in the NCAA, and we all want to be in Division I. Certainly my hope is that is how this all works out.”
Mississippi’s SEC campus leaders are in complete support of Slive.
“I am very supportive of our efforts as a conference to work with the other big four conferences to make decisions that are in the best interest of our student-athletes,” MSU president Mark Keenum said.
Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones agrees.
“I don’t know anybody in our conference who have concerns about this commitment to better support our student-athletes.”
This week of meetings has been about discussion of a model that exists from an NCAA steering committee that would in fact grant the autonomy the big schools seek.
The fly in the punch bowl is the question of how many of the big schools would have to agree before any form of legislation would become rule.
The SEC’s position is that the threshold for change as it’s currently written – a two-thirds vote and passage by four of five conferences – is too high.
The threshold supported by the SEC and other conferences is 60 percent of the vote and three of five conferences.
Slive said his conference is “supportive” of the entire model set forth by the steering committee except for the current language to pass legislation.
“If it doesn’t pass the next move would be to go to Division IV. It’s not something we want to do.”
The biggest concern among SEC members is that the expressed NCAA voting thresholds would make meaningful change far too difficult.
Florida president Bernie Machen said he’s not confident that autonomy will pass.
“There are some on the other side who don’t want us to do this,” Machen said. “They think all we’re trying to do is separate competitively from the other schools. If we don’t get it there will be some real difficult times ahead for the NCAA and the five conferences. The NCAA needs this to work as much as we do.”
The voting threshold appears to be the main issue. Slive said he doesn’t see other sticking points arising, even full cost of attendance which would provide more money to athletes. With all the complexities there the belief is that issues could be tackled individually when the time comes.
That would mean the power conferences working together, and that would require a more lenient voting threshold, the SEC says.
“Change is hard, but we need to face up to change,” Slive said. “The collegiate model is not only important and valuable to our institutions and student-athletes, but it’s part of the DNA of our American culture. It deserves to be protected, to grow and change and to evolve in order to be preserved for generations.”