Post and Courier
September 23, 2014

SoCon, Big South 'holding their breath' after NCAA's 'Big Five' vote

Posted: 08/08/2014 04:05 p.m.
Updated: 08/08/2014 05:48 p.m.


By Jeff Hartsell

When Jim Senter was introduced as The Citadel's new athletic director on Wednesday, his new school was subject to most of the same rules as larger NCAA Division I counterparts such as Clemson and South Carolina.

By the time Senter began house-hunting in Charleston on Friday, the D-I landscape had shifted. A vote by the Division I board of directors on Thursday granted autonomy to the NCAA's five richest conferences, meaning that the 65 schools in the SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 could soon be able to increase the value of scholarships, improve health insurance for athletes, allow players to consult agents and more.

"I told my boss at Colorado, 'It'd be nice if you big boys would share some of those luxuries with us,'' said Senter, who came to The Citadel from the University of Colorado, a Pac-12 member. "He said, 'Boy, how quickly your mindset has changed.'"

It's too early to say exactly how Big Five autonomy will impact the other 27 leagues in Division I. But it's safe to say officials in smaller leagues such as the Southern Conference and the Big South are worried about it.

"I just hope the commitment we have to each other prevails, and we don't let any of this tear us apart," SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said recently.

"We're not the only ones having these conversations," said Iamarino, whose league includes The Citadel, Wofford and Furman. "They are taking place among all 27 conferences outside of the Big Five. I think you are going to find other FBS leagues, like the Mid-American and Sun Belt, they are stuck. They've backed themselves into a corner where they've said, 'We're just like the Big Five,' and they will do what they have to do to keep up."

And that could mean that non-revenue sports are dropped in the name of providing cost-of-attendance scholarships for football and basketball, he said.

"Programs will be dropped, Olympic sports programs will be in peril," Iamarino said. "At our level, I hope we can maintain those programs, make intelligent decisions and live within our resources. That's who we are."

The huge diversity in resources even among Big Five members makes permissive legislation problematic, said Charleston Southern athletic director Hank Small.

"The recent food legislation is a perfect example," said Small, whose school is a Big South member. "You can feed student-athletes as much as you want. So you have SEC schools hiring nutritionists and gourmet chefs, and people on the other end who can't afford to do anything."

Clemson's Dabo Swinney is among the Big Five football coaches who believe those schools should schedule only each other, which would mean an end to big-money guarantee games for schools such as The Citadel and CSU.

But Small does not believe that will happen anytime soon.

"We're talking to people about scheduling (guarantee) games for 2020 and beyond," he said. "I think the pressure is going the other way, that those schools have to share the wealth somehow. They are doing very well because of TV money, and we need to be part of that in some way. Having our kids go to Georgia or Alabama, not just in football and basketball but other sports, is a fantastic experience for them."

The Big Five autonomy decision still must pass a 60-day comment period before it is NCAA law. People like Iamarino, Senter and Small will be watching closely.

"Everybody's holding their breath," Small said.