O’Bannon and Autonomy Are Only The Tip-Off Of The NCAA’s Seismic Shifts

Geologists have long theorized that millions of years ago, the continents were all clumped together as one enormous landmass known as Pangea.

Before rumors of a Carter split began sweeping the Internet, Pangea was the most impactful slow-burn separation in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. College football’s slow drift may be coming for the crown at an incredibly sluggish pace.

In January, wn Washington coach Chris Petersen explained why he finally accepted a head coaching opening to ESPN.com’s Ted Miller, he succinctly responded, “It felt like the right time for a new challenge.”

The subtext was that the looming College Football Playoff was the signal which caused the alarm to go off in his head.

Perhaps, that was only a fraction of the reasons behind his departure and his foresight about the future of schools outside the Big 5 conferences is what triggered his flight from the WAC.

The continental drift which beget the tectonic plates theory is rarely discussed in college football and basketball circles, however moving continents explains how collegiate sports is further separating the haves from the have-nots.

The landscape for college hoops and football has been further altered in recent days because of a pair of decisions made by 18 Division I board of directors and Judge Claudia Wilken.

However, instead of separating into a new division as they did in 1978 with the advent of Division I-AA, Division I opted for a separation of powers. More may be on the way if the murmurs for a czar devoted solely to hoops and football in each conference grows louder.

On Thursday, the Power 5 conferences broke from the pack following a 16-2 votee and divorced their non-powerhouse peers without moving of the house in an attempt to create their own league non-gameplay rules and regulations.

It's a world in which Power 5 conference schools will have the authority to set their own rules and regulations apart from the Pangea college sports collective.

The drift has been slow and laborious, but failed attempts to aid student-athletes was ultimately the impetus for this partial paradigm shift.

Three years ago at an NCAA retreat, Mark Emmert proposed an additional $2,000 stipend for student-athletes, but it was shot down by half of D1s 355 schools after the smaller athletic departments objected to the strain this would place on their budgets.

In particular, the autonomy spreads to 11 areas of competitive balance, which can be approved by a 60 percent approval vote by 65 power schools plus 15 player reps and a majority rule from three out of five conferences or 51 percent approval from all council voters and majority approval in four out of five conferences.

(1) ATHLETIC PERSONNEL – Schools are currently allowed just nine full-time assistant coaches, however, the increased demands of revenue sports has created a need for more. With 85 scholarship players to monitor, Power 5 schools would like to raise that limit while the proletarian class will make due with what they have. In a few months, the collegiate coaching market should be booming with staffs filling out their bloated frames with new full-time hires. APPLY NOW!

(2) INSURANCE AND CAREER TRANSITION – This directly addresses student-athletes securing disability or loss of value insurance benefits to protect against injuries.  As it stands, players can take out individual loans, but many athletes don’t have the funds to foot the bills on the premiums. If the Power 5 have their way, they would elect to allow universities to pay for insurance, which is a loophole in regards to paying players.

To convince senior offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to return for his senior season, Texas A&M pulled between $50,000 and $60,000 out of its limited Student Assistant Fund on a loss-of-value insurance policy. Ogbuehi is projected as a first rounder in the 2015 NFL Draft, but it was Florida State doing the same for Jameis Winston’s $10 million loss-of-value/permanent disability policy that caused the biggest stir recently.

Heres where it gets really interesting though. More importantly, flexibility will be granted in regards to the interactions with players and agents. In four consecutive years, a record number of underclassmen have gone undrafted and this past May, 36 players went home without a team. The hope is that players will get a better grasp of their draft statuses before declaring through agent interactions and possibly an underclassmen combine. Conceivably, the schools could go as far as to allow undrafted underclassmen to return with their eligibility intact.

(3) CAREER PURSUITS UNRELATED TO ATHLETICS – In a brave new world, student-athletes will be able to profit from their non-football endeavors such as music and more. 

(4) RECRUITING RESTRICTIONS – This area is legislated to prevent recruiters from infringing on the academic preparation of a student-athlete’s academic life. Conferences may decided to cut back on recruiting activity and visits. 

(5) PRE-ENROLLMENT EXPENSES AND SUPPORT – This would simply enable athletic departments to budget for a parent to accompany recruits on campus visits. Conferences will also debate on paying for transportation to and from campus, and other costs accrued during summer classes before a recruit's first year.

(6) FINANCIAL AID – This is an area in which the clamor for “full coast of attendance” would reside under. Conferences will vote for an additional stipend to cover expenses  

(7) AWARDS BENEFITS AND EXENSES – Changes in this area could result in universities voting to allow themselves to fund athlete’s families travel for games, includes complimentary admission to games and even free parking for families of the athlete.

(8) ACADEMIC SUPPORT – Additional support academically for at-risk student-athletes is the focus of this area.

(9) HEALTH AND WELLNESS – The Power 5 conferences will be allowed to uniformly vote on better health insurance and medical coverage packages.

(10) MEALS AND NUTRITION – Shabazz Napier, Arian Foster and a slew of former student-athletes have been vocal about going to sleep hungry. The affect may be alterations in the “fueling” of athletes.

(11) TIME DEMANDS – Surprisingly enough, conferences may also vote soon on limiting how long athletes are devoting to team activities—especially in revenue sports. This is most likely a response to the Northwestern unionization vote, which was approved

Unfortunately, these are smokescreens designed to keep lawyers and student-athletes off of their backs. Transfer eligibility, which is a topic that former Texas Tech walk-on quarterback-turned-Oklahoma transfer in limbo would like to see addressed will not initially be a part of the autonomy vote.

Back in May when the Pac-12 presidents released their reform plans, one of their bullet points was to "liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions."

Mayfield is just the latest example of coaches authority running rampant with imposing restrictions onn a transferring player, but with one unique caveat.

Mayfield will sit out the season, but Texas Tech has blocked his transfer to Oklahoma despite the fact that Mayfield was a walk-on starter for the Red Raiders last season. However, NCAA rules dictate that if a school blocks a transfer, the player must sit out the season and cannot be put on scholarship while he’s ineligible.

An enforcement committee that is antiquated also won’t be under Power 5 scrutiny.

What was under scrutiny while the NCAA approved its limited update on the NCAA parchment scroll was the names, images and likenesses (NIL rights) of student-athletes.

Although, the NCAA’s silly string connection between of amateurism’s purity being an aphrodisiac to consumers and absconding with their workforce’s NIL rights was denied Mutumbo style, the NCAA scored a bucket on the put-back.

Even though Judge Wilken drilled deeper holes into the NCAA’s amateurism defense than recently discovered Siberian craters, Wilken placed her own restriction on competition in the market by paving the road for the NCAA to cap compensation.

If EA Sports does continue to rev up their vaunted college football video game series, it’ll be with a revamped salary cap mode in which programs big and small can dip into their coffers and offer to compensate recruits with at least to $5,000 annually in a trust fund.

The excesses of major D1 programs would vastly outnumber the pittances of their smaller counterparts, which is already the case, but it’s only a matter of time until the NCAA cap that amount at exactly $5,000 above the value of a scholarship from  NIL-related revenues. Ultimately, as much as $20,000 can be tucked away for post-career safekeeping until a student-athlete’s eligibility is completed.

However, this further ejects small programs from the upper echelon of recruiting. Instead of programs pooling their money to bid for a recruit, the cap removes any incentive for a student-athlete to consider a mid-major that can’t go all in financially on a program-changing recruit.

“All of us will be looking at this new world,” Georgia State’s president Mark Becker told the New York Times. “We need to look at our budgets very carefully. What are we going to be able to do, and how are we going to be able to do it?”

Conversely, the power structure has been rearranged, but not flipped topsy turvy. Players will be still beholden to the NCAA’s “salary cap” and still cannot sign endorsement deals, but tectonic shifts don’t occur overnight.  

In fact, current student-athletes won’t benefit from Friday’s anti-trust class action victory. Only student-athletes that are currently rising high school juniors will be the beneficiaries of the O’Bannon suit as it will only be applicable to recruits that enroll in college on r after July 1, 2016. The absence of early-enrollee freshman from spring practices should be an interesting development to take note of in two years.

Tyrone Prothro, the former Alabama receiver whose career ended as the result of a compound fracture testified that he did not receive a penny of the $10,000 Alabama received for his behind the back catch against Southern Miss being named Game-Changing Play of the Week or the $100,000 ‘Bama pocketed after it was named Pontiac’s 2005 Game Changing Play of the Season.

Pontiac is now a defunct automobile brand, but Wilken’s sword into the heart of college football missed and only resulted in a flesh wound.

“It essentially gave the N.C.A.A. a salary cap, where in the professional league you would have to collectively bargain for that. I don’t see any justification for the $5,000.” Dennis Cordell, a former NFL Players Association lawyer told the New York Times.

That monetary blockade of amateurism which blocks student-athletes from earning endorsement money or profiting off of their celebrity still stands, but change rarely comes in chunks. It took centuries for the continents to settle. This was a partial victory.

However, just as football nearly tore the 65 power conference schools away after the trauma of realignment, basketball is the glue that kept them from seceding.

While the possibility of the Power 5 forming their own uber-elite Division of college football, they’d have to drag their basketball programs kicking and screaming as well into the fold.

College basketball has been thrust into an era of parity thanks to the NBA’s age limit requirements, but even that may be reversed somewhat if Commissioner Adam Silver’s desire for a higher age limit is granted.

Even the Butlers, Gonzagas and San Diego States are at a financial disadvantage though. While college hoops isn’t the lucrative golden talisman that football is, the 65-team NCAA tournament is an annual billion dollar revenue stream that cannot be duplicated without the participation of the Cinderellas who are bound to the NCAA’s wobbly foundation.

However, while college football’s stars have no modern day USFL to bounce early to, college basketball student-athletes may peep that $5,000 trust fund and decide that the D-League is a more lucrative short-term option.

Of course, the next tectonic shift could arise from Jeffrey Kessler’s suit. In the Kessler case, Kessler seeks to remove any sort of cap from the free market of college sports. If he scores an outright victory, players could potentially begin individually selling their NIL rights at an uncapped amount.

In 1992, Kessler represented the NFL Players Association during a key court victory that ushered in the league’s modern day free agency structure.

An NCAA loss in the Kessler case would halt the imposed limit on scholarships and scholarship amounts and essentially bring free agency with an academic twist to college sports.

We can theorize in think tanks about how the shifting plates will affect college football’s landscape, but it’s more unpredictable than the earth’s crust. With Kessler and Northwestern hot on their heels, the NCAA’s leadership and membership schools should stabilize themselves and invest in a Richter scale, because the shake-up is only just beginning.