ADs Could Use Basketball Leverage to Restructure College Football

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Last month, athletic directors within the Football Bowl Subdivision indicated they would like to see a more-streamlined, less-bureaucratic NCAA if the organization is to continue running college football and basketball.

Short of that, an executive representing the Lead1 Association said the ADs group would "explore other options."

CBS Sports has learned what those options might look like.

One option is leveraging schools' participation in the NCAA Tournament. While a separate basketball tournament operated outside of the NCAA isn't likely anytime soon, the ADs' realization they could create such an event provides a picture as to how the NCAA's two biggest sports will be run in the future.

A football breakaway has long been discussed — it is more likely than one in basketball — as the NCAA's power diminishes and membership has demanded a reorganization of the 117-year-old organization, according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.

Approximately 80 FBS ADs traveled to Lead1's mid-September meeting in Washington, D.C.. Another 20 participated virtually, putting 100 out of 131 total in attendance. They saw two compelling presentations made by former West Virginia AD and NCAA executive Oliver Luck and North Carolina associate professor of sports administration Erianne Weight.

One presentation was a model with college football continuing to operate inside the NCAA. The other showed the FBS going "completely independent" of the NCAA, according to a CBS Sports source.

"It was about as unanimous as it could get," Lead1 CEO Tom McMillen said of his membership's reaction to football governance. "It was, 'Fix it or we will seriously consider move options.' "

Basketball is involved in the discussion because the revenue from the NCAA Tournament is used by the association to essentially run major-college football. The NCAA does not sponsor an FBS championship. Meanwhile, the basketball tournament brings approximately $800 million per year, approximately 80 percent of which goes back to NCAA members.

"If the ADs stand together, they can almost accomplish anything," McMillen said.

Ohio State AD Gene Smith raised eyebrows last summer when he suggested to ESPN that the College Football Playoff take over FBS. He was not alone. In December 2020, the reform-minded Knight Commission essentially suggested the same thing.

While there is no overt movement for Division I to stage its own basketball tournament, the National Association of Basketball Coaches is on record as saying it would like to establish a governing board of the game but within the NCAA structure, as reported by Dodd. (NABC president Craig Robinson provided no comment when contacted.)

Most importantly, for the first time during that Lead1 meeting, a price tag was put on what it would take to run the FBS: $65 million annually. That figure was revealed during a slide presentation by Kathleen McNeely, the NCAA's former CFO and currently a Lead1 consultant. (McNeely did not comment but gave a Lead1 official permission to describe her presentation in detail with CBS Sports.)

An outside entity taking over the FBS would be less about affordability and more about liability. That $65 million represents 10 percent of the current annual CFP payout ($600 million) and even less (about 4 percent) of the projected annual payout in an expanded 12-team CFP field.

"Building a tournament outside of the NCAA structure would be a massive lift," Dodd wrote. "And there is little indication that college presidents, who have the ultimate say, are dissatisfied enough to make such a dramatic move. However, acknowledging the fact that they could reflects some of the dissatisfaction."

"I wouldn't worry about the basketball tournament falling apart, yet," said a source at the September meeting. "I think there is widespread acceptance of the tournament as the place to be if you're a college basketball team." 

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