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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

Dick Harmon: Will Utah State, BYU be left behind as Power 5 conferences gain autonomy?

By Dick Harmon, Deseret News

Published: Fri, Aug. 15 8:00 p.m. MDT

 Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) fights out of the arms of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days (32) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) fights out of the arms of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days (32) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013.

(Matt Gade, Deseret News)

So, does this autonomy given to Power 5 conferences to create new NCAA rules mean the MWC’s Utah State and independent BYU will be left behind?

The real and true answer is: Nobody knows.

Why? Because nobody on the planet today knows what legislation will be proposed in October and approved by the NCAA during its convention in January 2015.

We think it will involve changes to allow full cost of attendance, increased medical care, insurance, food, a possible stipend to athletes, an increased role for agents to help in transition beyond college, new recruiting rules and increased staff for support.

Just over a week ago, the NCAA approved a proposal by the wealthiest five athletic conferences, giving them leeway in making new rules that cannot be overturned or outvoted by the 27 other conferences.

In theory, all this will cost more coin. In reality, boosters at all schools, most who have been kept at bay by school compliance officers, will gladly ante up more dough to help their favorite school. This is true at Utah, Utah State and BYU.

So, what’s the rub?

This past week, I received numerous emails from concerned fans from one program or another outside the Power 5 entitlement worried that this new move may further the distance between haves and have not’s.

At this point, the worry is in vain.

Conference Commissioners Craig Thompson of the MWC and Michael Aresco of the American Athletic Conference have publicly stated intentions to comply and go forward. BYU’s Tom Holmoe has echoed this intent when he said the Cougars “will do what is appropriate.”

Aresco said he isn’t scared a bit. That the AAC, which includes programs like Central Florida being left behind? “I don’t buy that for a minute,” he told Inside Higher Ed.

Karl Benson, commissioner of the Sun Belt conference, another non-Power 5 league, said, “While there will be challenges ahead, our universities are committed to the continued academic success of our student-athletes along with providing the necessary benefits to protect their overall health and welfare.”

Company line by a non-elite: We’ll take it on.

Plus, all this is going to take time, a lot of time.

Purdue’s athletic director, Morgan Burke, who helped put autonomy on the table and is president of the Division I Athletic Directors Association, put it this way: “We didn’t get here with the issues we’ve got in six months, so we’re probably not getting out in six months. Because there’s all this build-up (the public thinks) once we’ve got autonomy there’s going to be an agenda that’s clear-cut and decisive. But I don’t think it will be that fast.” (USA Today, Aug. 6, 2014).

The vote for Power 5 autonomy pushed forward last week is now in a “review period.” While unlikely, if 75 of the 351 individual Division I schools veto the autonomous governance structure, it will go back to a proposal stage. If 124 object, it would be dead and the Power 5 conferences might design something else, including departure from the NCAA, as threatened the past year.

If and when autonomy is the NCAA’s way of doing things, there are gobs of proposals, new legislation, creation of committees and ways and means of voting, including bringing in student-athletes to be a part of making new rules.

What we’ll get is a few key ideas acted upon. Other less critical proposals will be tabled on a slower track and timeline. It could be years or half a decade until wheels are lubed enough to see significant changes.

“We can keep up,” UCF President John Hitt told the Orlando Sentinel.

To the fan in the stands, very little of the product on the field will change. Those schools that have always signed the best talent will continue to do so and will pop up in the new national playoff year after year just as they’ve done for decades. The middle of the pack will be yapping at their heels, whether it be Boise State, BYU, Utah, Arizona State, Baylor or Illinois. The lower-tier programs, whether Power 5 Vanderbilt or MWC’s Wyoming, will still have their mountains to climb.

Most experts believe this is the future, but we are time zones away from answers. Even among Power 5 conferences, there are financial differences that are significant at Indiana and Ohio State that will make all this a real cat fight even between the elite.

Remember the fact that just over 20 major college athletic programs operate in the black these days. Even the dump trucks of TV money everyone likes to cite in league contracts is future money that hasn’t been collected in coffers at ABC, ESPN and Fox as we speak. We may have to borrow it from the Chinese.

So, if this new proposed NCAA stuff has you worried, torn up or confused, welcome to a large club. You share membership with presidents and athletic directors of nearly every school in the land. There are few answers on this 16th day of August, 2014.

We’ve seen the College Football Association TV pacts, the Bowl Coalition, the BCS and now the four-team playoff attempt to iron out college football through the past four decades.

In the end, very little on the field has changed at all.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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1. runnerguy50
Virginia Beach, Va,
Aug. 15, 2014

This is one market that is overdue for a correction.

2. hedgehog
Ann Arbor, MI,
Aug. 15, 2014

Of course bYu will be left in the dust. But it's probably for the best. bYu will continue to be on of the better teams of the leftovers. bYu fans demand wins and they will continue to get them.

3. Kiboo
South Jordan, Utah,
Aug. 15, 2014

Do we really have to rehash this again??? The answer is maybe yes, maybe no - because at this juncture nobody knows.

Let it go already.

4. 10CC
Bountiful, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

The most expensive piece of this will be lifetime health insurance for injuries sustained while being a college athlete. This aspect will dwarf the cost of stipends.

As recruits learn of this benefit, part of recruiting may involve the quality of healthcare available from the school. Universities with medical schools and professors of medicine may have an advantage in attracting athletes, over schools that have physicians who are in general practice.

5. Carson
Provo, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

BYU will be left behind.