For the sake of student-athletes, let the Power 5 conferences go

Given the NCAA Convention happenings, it is evident that the goal of the Power 5 is to follow the money. Even at strong academic institutions like most ACC members, the athletic decision-making revolves around the money wars: better facilities, higher paid coaches, more alumni donations to athletics and, hopefully, lots of winning.

Nothing could be clearer proof than the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, now four years into an unresolved academic-athletic scandal, hiring a football coach whose 2012 buyout from Auburn was reported to be about $7.5 million. That’s $7.5 million not to coach college football at a particular institution.

The NCAA mission statement seems reasonable. It’s actually fairly specific. Athletics is to be considered an avocation that students pursue secondary to their educational pursuits. The NCAA’s purpose, I paraphrase a bit, is to integrate athletics into the lives of students in a way that enhances their educational experience. But, as with many mission statements, the implementation of the mission often competes with other, more attractive objectives.

What the Power 5 continue to signal, and what parents or guardians of potential college athletes should be wary of, is that the money is most important. Students who participate in athletics take online courses to accommodate their athletics schedules. Athletics schedules and demands continue to increase. For example, the National Football Playoff Championship was scheduled for the first week of academics for most of the country’s colleges and universities.

Some may say that, given a chance, most students (and I would argue most parents) would choose the glamor and stage the Power 5 have to offer. (The NCAA gave the Power 5 – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference – legislative autonomy last year, with the group of 65 schools now able to pass measures without the support of the schools in the other 27 Division I conferences.)

But the Power 5 stage is reserved for only a small percentage of the student-athletes who participate in NCAA athletics. I have no problem with the waves of money flowing into the Power 5 conferences. Let’s just be honest about it. Let them go. Let them flaunt their money and be autonomous. Let them schedule athletics events at some of the most crucial times of the academic year. Let the corporate sponsorships continue to become more prominent on the fields and arenas of big-time college athletics. Let them do it, and let it be advertised so that future college athletes can, at least, be informed when they decide where to attend.

Autonomy for the Power 5 could lead to the remaining schools making some sound educational decisions for their student-athletes instead of having to pretend they really want to be just like the Power 5. The other NCAA institutions can set rules and regulations that best fit their needs, including their stretched budgets, without interference from the power of the Power 5 vote.

I would guess that a majority of the NCAA schools’ athletics budgets (especially those outside of the Power 5 conferences) are less than Gene Chizik’s 2012 buyout from Auburn.

Most important, though, is that the Power 5 and other NCAA institutions can choose an honest conversation with potential student-athletes. They can begin to speak of the differences in the academic/athletic experiences that student-athletes will receive. They can begin to say that we do, clearly, treat our college athletes differently, here’s how and here is the information you need for your family to make the best decision.

Letting the Power 5 go would provide student-athletes with an honest picture of college athletics in America, which is fundamentally different based upon the level at which a school or conference competes. Letting the Power 5 go would also bring the NCAA more in tune with its own mission and purpose, which is serving students who happen to compete in college athletics as a side project.

Joey Long is an assistant professor of Business Law and Ethics at the University of Mount Olive in Mount Olive.