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Autonomy Provision Passed in New Division I Structure

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The future is going to look different. I'm assuming that the ACC will establish a lacrosse moon base or something.

Jamie Squire

The nation's most powerful college investment banks -- the ACC, SEC, PAC-12, Big Ten, and Big XII -- have been authorized to author rules to govern how they will spend the money that they receive from television networks in giants bags of money with dollar signs crudely drawn on the side. This is an important thing, more important than rich people staying that way while trying to ignore those that are less well-off attempting, in vain, to buy second-hand ascots to try and look like the rich people successfully maintaining their I'm-so-rich-I-use-gold-plated-Q-tips status. In fact, this is one of the biggest developments in the history of college sports (that is, of course, until these five conferences totally break away and start their own money-printing concern that is registered as "The NCAA is for Suckers, Inc."), and it's one where the ramifications aren't yet clear.

From The New York Times:

The first step toward an informal aristocracy in college sports was codified Thursday, when the 5 richest conferences and their 65 universities were awarded the right by the Division I board of directors to make their own rules on several issues affecting athletes and competition.

If the endorsement passes through a 60-day comment period, the so-called Big 5 — the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Pacific-12, the Big Ten and the Big 12 — will receive the power to raise the value of scholarships, improve health insurance, allow players to consult agents and more.

If 75 universities express disapproval during the 60-day period, the board will reconsider its decision. If 125 universities object, the model’s implementation will be suspended pending that reconsideration. If the board subsequently reaffirms its decision, all Division I universities will vote, with a five-eighths majority required to overturn.

Importantly, any other Division I league or member -- pending the approval of that member's league -- could opt into the rules that these Rich Uncle Pennybags conferences adopt.

This entire deal is obviously built around making football and basketball decisions, with pretty much everything else -- including lacrosse -- in the wake of those two sports' considerations. It's football and basketball that created this power structure, and it's no surprise that those two money-printing efforts are going to drive the process of determining what rules will govern the model. The problem with understanding what this potential governance model means, from a lacrosse perspective, is that there are only 11 schools -- Duke, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia -- that are members -- in whatever capacity -- of a brandy-swilling league, just under 16 percent of the 69 schools that will field a Division I team in the 2015 season. The question, then, is simple: What will these five conferences do that could impact almost 85 percent of Division I lacrosse?

There are three areas of primary concern here, these areas are serving as the basis for trying to understand whether just over a dozen schools will influence the vast majority of Division I lacrosse's future:

  • Recruiting: The power of the 12.6 scholarship limit is skewed under a full-cost-of-attendance principle. Would a kid take a partial scholarship to Lehigh if he can get a partial scholarship to Duke that also carries with it a greater stipend to offset his needs? The possibility of 11 schools to further consolidate talent at the Division I level is something that could quickly emerge.
  • Competitiveness: In an environment where recruiting changes and talent potentially accumulates in only a handful of schools, leveraged competitiveness, residually, likely decreases across Division I's landscape. Roby's comments are especially notable in the context of college lacrosse: Division I has honored only nine different champions in its 40-year history; six of those champions hold membership -- or will have future membership -- in one of the five conferences that seek greater autonomy in how they distribute scholarship dollars. Further establishment of the establishment is a scary thing for a game that has become more competitively balanced over the last decade or so.
  • Growth: Division I lacrosse is slowly approaching 70 schools on its roll. If teams from power leagues are able to concentrate talent through recruiting and eliminate competitive balance, is there the necessary motivation for schools to add a Division I program to its athletic offerings? Is there the necessary motivation to keep a lacrosse program on its roll of athletic offerings? Is the cost of funding cost-of-attendance stipends oppressive enough to keep schools in power leagues from even considering adding lacrosse to its list of athletic offerings? The potential for sponsorship stagnation could occur under this new model.

This is pretty dangerous stuff for all non-revenue sports, but lacrosse seems to stand in a uniquely precarious position given where the game is on the national landscape and its current construct. Resource allocation and competition is a major issue for many schools, and a model that substantially changes how Division I lacrosse functions could drastically impact the overall momentum that Division I lacrosse has generated in the last 15-20 years.

If this was lacrosse passing rules about lacrosse (like the rules congress will in the near future), the consequences would be relative easy to assess or predict. But this isn't lacrosse passing rules for lacrosse; these are leagues passing rules primarily for football and hoops, with non-revenue sports -- like lacrosse -- patiently waiting for the description of their future once the biggest assets in the investment portfolio are sufficiently addressed. Hold on to your butts.