The Rewards and Risks of College Football Breaking Away from NCAA Oversight

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMay 1, 2013

NCAA president Mark Emmert
NCAA president Mark EmmertNick Laham/Getty Images

Last week, Dan Wolken and George Schroeder of USA Today wrote a story on how breaking away from the NCAA may be the next version of college football realignment, after the ACC's grant of rights deal essentially ended the most recent realignment bonanza.

While that may be an easy answer to solve issues like paying college football players, it may not be the best business decision for the big-name programs in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). 

The tax-exempt status that the NCAA enjoys is a major benefit to its institutions, which are able to keep the majority of their skyrocketing revenue, according to

That creates a bit of an issue. 

We all know that, in reality, college football is big business. But in order to be truly treated like a big business, it may have to lose that tax-exempt designation.

A tipping point exists, but college athletic directors and presidents would like keep the revenue generated by the increasing popularity of college football while staying under the NCAA's umbrella. Considering the paycheck coming once all conference cable networks have settled in and the new postseason structure is implemented, that may be easier said than done.

One way to quell the pay-for-play firestorm is to implement a full-cost-of-attendance stipend.

The $2,000 per year stipend is a touchy subject in today's landscape. For the most part, the lower-tier schools in Division I fear that they can't afford it while SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany have been at the forefront of the fight.

It could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Slive suggested that it could cause a split in FBS, which would likely benefit all as long as the lower tier could still schedule games with the upper tier and revenues from other sports aren't affected. Staying under the NCAA's oversight would likely be ideal, but it could be a slippery slope.

After all, a stipend is a stipend. While it would be masked under the ideals of the athletic scholarship, let's be real—it's really just pay-for-play.

Lumping it it with the other extra benefits that athletes receive legally, including athletic scholarships that are valued at $35,000 per year or more, would be the only tricky part.

But what about another organization?

A third party would be incredibly beneficial in terms of enforcement. After all, the NCAA's botched Miami case and exodus of its enforcement staff is an indication that all is not well in Indianapolis.

Could a new organization exist that provides the proper oversight and enforcement needed under an amateur model? That's one of the major risks schools and conferences would take if they broke away.

The reward could be huge, though. 

Can you imagine a world where enforcement is streamlined under some sort of transparent system that keeps the guise of amateur athletics intact? Miami would surely welcome it, as would other programs and conferences who feel that rules aren't being applied equally.

As was the case with conference realignment, breaking away from the NCAA could bring up some unintended consequences.

Would the teams or conferences that break away be allowed to schedule games against lower division teams? Breaking away could conceivably classify major college football players as semi-professionals, which could make it hard to schedule games against traditionally amateur programs.

If allowed, the lower-tier teams would probably welcome the change. Sure, they'd lose out on recruits and the likelihood of springing an upset would decrease, but those paychecks from the games would probably go through the roof.

We are entering an interesting time.

If you're to believe the sources in USA Today's report, a major change is coming in some way, shape or form.

What that is exactly remains to be seen. But a breakaway from the NCAA would be a high-risk move, with the reward being a mystery.