Today’s guest columnist is Joe Moglia, chair of athletics and executive advisor to the president at Coastal Carolina University.
As he takes over the NCAA presidency this week, Charlie Baker faces a critical challenge: With more money than ever coming in from TV deals, Baker’s toughest order of business will be convincing the Power Five schools that they still need the NCAA. This may be a hard sell, however, since there are ample reasons for the Power Five schools to chart their own course independent of college athletics’ governing body.
After its failure to lead on NIL, the NCAA lacks the credibility—and more important, the authority—to direct the operations of high-earning college football programs. At the same time, the athletics directors at these schools are swiftly realizing they are running a business, and the NCAA may not have a role to play in that much longer.
I predict the Power Five will break away from the NCAA within the next three years.
Let’s start with the obvious. Power Five football programs generate billions of dollars in TV revenue, and that income is only expected to grow. Case in point: Big Ten schools are expected to receive as much as $100 million annually within the next few years. And there’s no reason to think that trend will reverse anytime soon. There’s a structural reason for this. In practical terms, college football functions as the minor leagues for the NFL. But it’s also more than that; it is tremendously popular in its own right, and it generates a tremendous amount of money for that reason, which benefits universities.
The students playing on these teams are, in many cases, trying to go pro, and with the rise of NIL, they’re now eligible for compensation (albeit indirectly) for their popularity, potential and their ability. Like it or not, college football—especially at the level of the Power Five—is driven by money now, not fanciful ideas about student-athletes. College football is a business, and athletics directors need to stop pretending that it isn’t if they want it to be fair and to maximize its positive impact on universities and athletes. Athletics directors, particularly in the Power Five, must take responsibility and make sure some kind of competitive balance remains in college football and that it continues to appropriately benefit the players and universities.
The reality is that in the next few years, we will more likely than not see college football players being paid directly for their services, at least at the Power Five level. (Indeed, there is already a case before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that at least some college athletes should be paid at least minimum wage.) NIL has already started this process, but it is in the best interest of the schools and students for those programs to take the lead in devising a system that works. The TV revenues being generated are gigantic, and it is only fair that the players benefit from that.
Unfortunately, without good leadership and a carefully devised system for compensating players, which all of the schools agree to abide by, it will be impossible to do this in a way that is fair and competitive. There’s no clear answer on how to do this yet, and developing this system—perhaps involving some combination of NIL, salaries, and revenue sharing—will be the first order of business for college athletics in the coming years. The NCAA is neither competent nor empowered to handle revenue and deals at this level, or to foster a system that protects football programs and fairly compensates players. Devising, negotiating and administering such a system will likely require the establishment of an independent advisory board or committee.
So what might an independent Power Five look like?
The first thing the Power Five could do is break football away from the other sports. Football revenues would still continue to support those other sports at the universities, but the management and administration of Power Five football would no longer fall within the NCAA’s purview. Instead of looking to the NCAA for leadership and coordination, the Power Five schools could hire an outside executive committee; the members would be prohibited from having any affiliation with a particular team or conference. That committee would have one job: Do what’s in the best interest of college athletics, one sport at a time, beginning with football, and then basketball.
This committee would be charged with negotiating TV deals on behalf of the Power Five, and with devising rules around NIL, player transfers and player compensation. The committee would also be charged with devising and regularly reviewing rules and best practices to protect the health and safety of players. The schools would agree to abide by the decisions of the committee. (Of course, the Power Five would retain the right to fire that committee.) There are two key components to this. First, the Power Five and the executive committee will act in a way that treats football like a business and takes into account the meaning and value of the revenue it generates. Secondly, the Power Five schools will abide by the rules and decisions made by the executive committee.
Of course, people may worry about what happens to non-revenue generating sports if this happens. The money generated by football and basketball will still flow into university athletics departments, and they will still have the responsibility of supporting all their programs fairly. Just because they’re running football correctly and like a business doesn’t mean that changes. Indeed, those other sports may be where the NCAA has an ongoing role.
You’ve got two incredible businesses with the NFL and college football, and you don’t want to do anything to screw that up. The structure of collegiate football is going to change because of mega TV deals and NIL. The NCAA has shown over and over it simply can’t handle the pressure. Instead, athletics directors and conferences need to help guide that process. And as those football programs become more like businesses, they need to bring in business people to run them.
College athletics are evolving. It’s time for the Power Five schools to chart their own course.
Moglia is the former CEO and Chairman of TD Ameritrade, and current Chairman of Fundamental Global LLC and Capital Wealth Advisors. In 2012, he became Coastal Carolina University’s head football coach, leading the team to four conference championships and an overall record of 56-22. He is now the Executive Director for Football and Executive Advisor to the President at Coastal Carolina. You can find him on his website, on his LinkedIn page and on Twitter.