01/15/2014 01:35 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2014

NCAA Needs to Protect Smaller Conferences from Major Conferences' Latest Power Grab


If you love college football and like rooting for the underdog, your days are numbered. The big kids want to take their football and go home.

Last month, Conference Commissioners of the Big Five football conferences (ACC, Big 12, SEC, PAC-12 and Big 10) repeated their demand that the NCAA should make major changes. They're upset that smaller schools have equal say on issues like recruiting rules and awarding stipends to players. These Big Five commissioners have called for their own super division where they make their own rules. Major changes could be made during the NCAA annual convention this week or during a special session in the spring.

During the summer, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby stated, "Relative to the legislative process, we are very much at a point now where we can't get anything that's transformative through the system. I think that's particularly felt by seven or eight conferences and the five major conferences in particular. It is just very difficult to do anything that would benefit our student athletes or our institutions that doesn't get voted down by the larger majority."

Many believe that the Big Five conferences could and should split away from the NCAA and the smaller football conferences (American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt, Mountain West, Conference USA and MAC) to create a new federation.

However, doing so would get rid of the most compelling aspect of college sports: the underdog.

One of the greatest aspects of college sports is rooting for the underdog. In recent years, some of the most exciting games and results took place when David beat Goliath. The most stunning result was when Appalachian State beat Michigan in the Big House in 2007. Many people remember Boise State's thrilling win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Utah beat Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl when it was a non-BCS team.

The biggest part of the NCAA basketball tournament's charm is that the smaller schools get to take on the bigger schools on a neutral court and frequently pull off the upset. From Lehigh beating Duke and Florida Gulf Coast beating Georgetown, it happens almost every year.

It's harder to pull off the big upset in football, but the smaller schools should have a chance.

The big schools already have a huge competitive advantage over the smaller schools, in terms of revenue, television exposure, recruiting, and access to major bowls. During the 2012-13 school year, the Big 12's 10 schools shared a record $196 million in revenue. The SEC distributed a record-high $289.4 million to its 14 members. The Big Ten teams took in $308 million. According to, the big five conferences collected over $1.4 billion this year from bowls, tournaments, and television revenue, compared to $175 million for the bottom five conferences from the same sources. USA Today projected that the SEC schools could receive $34 million apiece in shared conference and NCAA revenues in 2014-2015. Almost all of the Big Five Conference bowl contracts are with other Big Five Conferences, which shuts out the smaller conferences from the better bowls. They were "kind" enough to throw the smaller conferences a crumb when they agreed to allow the highest ranked team from one of the smaller conferences automatic qualification to one of the major bowls. Although there will be a four-team national championship playoff starting next year, it's highly unlikely that a team from one of the smaller conferences will be chosen to compete.

Allowing the five major conferences to make their own rules would give them even more of an advantage. It's Darwinism on steroids.

If you want changes and reform, here's real reform: Have a 16-team playoff that selects the top 16 ranked teams in the country, regardless of their conference affiliation. Have a rule that a 6-6 team can't take priority in bowl selection over a team with a winning record. Eliminate the conference bowl contract affiliations, especially for the major bowls, so that an 8-4 ACC team doesn't automatically get a guaranteed spot in the Orange Bowl over, let's say, a 10-2 Cincinnati team from the American Athletic Conference.

This wouldn't be socialism. It would be a merit-based system that rewards achievement.

Make no mistake, big-time college sports is all about money now. That's too bad. It's becoming even more of a minor league system for the pros than it once was. What makes college sports great is the concept that the student-athletes are representing the school. You don't see fans at NBA or NFL games rushing the court or the field after a big upset like they do in college sports.

This latest expression of anger from the Big Five Conferences is outrageous considering the competitive advantages that they already have. It's a case of the rich wanting to get richer. Hopefully, the NCAA will have the backbone to say no.