Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In recent years, ACC Commissioner John Swofford showed a deft enough touch to secure his conference's long-term future when many speculated it was on the brink of collapse. Along with his colleagues, Swofford is again navigating uncertain territory as the five power conferences seek the autonomy from the rest of Division I to create their own rules within the NCAA structure without having to break away.
"A 'Division 4' is always a fallback, but my sense is that this is on a good path from an NCAA standpoint, and that it's likely to pass in a form that the five of us (conference commissioners) are comfortable with and the five conferences are comfortable with," Swofford said Thursday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The possibility of a new division --- in which the 65 schools of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC would separate from Division I and create their own level of competition --- was raised again recently by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. At the SEC's spring meetings, Slive warned that "Division 4" was "the next move" if the conferences' desire for the authority to create rules, many of which are aimed at providing benefits to athletes beyond current regulations, was not granted. (The new measures could be followed by the other Division I schools.)
"I think (a possible new division) would be the next point of discussion, which I think is what Mike was saying," Swofford said. "My guess is we won't get to that point. If we do, then we'll jump in with both feet."
The NCAA Division I board of directors is scheduled to vote Aug. 7 on the autonomy proposal. Leading to it, Swofford described an environment of "horse trading" in which athletic directors, school presidents and conference commissioners across Division I have been in discussions to gauge what smaller schools and conferences could gain in exchange for their support to give autonomy to the power five.
"There's been a lot of respect and a lot of effort to understand what the five of us need and to understand what the other five (conferences) in FBS need and then what those conferences that are in the 27 that play Division I basketball but a different level of football or don't play football, what they need and understanding what each other's concerns are," he said.
While cost-of-attendance stipends may have received the most attention of benefits that the power conferences want to provide, others include health care, scholarship support for athletes after their eligibility has expired and access to advisers and agents. Swofford mentioned the current rule that limits athletes to 20 hours of activity related to their sport.
"The 20-hour rule, I'm not sure that's enforced the way it should be enforced," he said. "The offseason practices in various sports, I think we need to take a look at that."
Another is the perception that athletes are sometimes steered to certain majors that are less demanding or don't conflict with training and competition.
"We need to take a look at that, in my opinion," he said. "You don't want a sport to prohibit a student from pursuing a path in life starting with their education that they want to pursue."
Swofford is headed soon to California for the annual meetings of the Collegiate Commissioners Association, where all of the Division I conference commissioners will meet. It can be safely assumed that the demands of the power five, as well as those of the less powerful 27, will be discussed.
"I think when (college athletics) is done properly, it's a beautiful thing, and when it's not, it's not so pretty," Swofford said. "We've got to find a way to keep it pretty and even beautiful. I think that's worth preserving, and this is an opportunity to lay the foundation for something that's important to a lot of young people, important to a lot of people in general."