When the news broke yesterday about the so-called “Power Five” conferences receiving limited autonomy to make their own rules, the overreaction from fans was predictable:
Really bad. Unless #UCF is able to get in a power 5 conference, the divide between them and the rest of the big 3 Florida schools will grow
— Matthew Gruda (@matthew_gruda) August 7, 2014
They can all make their own rules now! College football is over!
Stop. Everyone just stop. Come back in from the ledge, and let’s think for a second.
First, here’s a list of the areas of legislation that the Power Five (SEC, ACC, Big XII, Big Ten and Pac-12) have autonomy over. Notice two things:
- We still don’t know exactly what new by-laws they want to pass. We won’t find that out until October.
- That list looks suspiciously similar to a lot of the things that the college athlete labor movement wants, and none of which includes pay for play, because athletes don’t want to be taxed on their scholarships. But that’s another story.
Now here’s what the Power Five DON’T have say over:
- Scholarship limits
- Postseason tournaments
- Transfer rules
- Signing periods
- On-field rules
If you’re UCF, that first bullet is the key. In football, the scholarship limit is 85. Alabama, Florida and Florida State cannot suddenly decide to bump it to 150, thereby shutting out the likes of UCF and USF from the athletes they would need to stay competitive and potentially beat those teams. You need athletes to win, and as we now know, there are more top Division I-level athletes available than there are scholarships available (85 scholarships x 65 teams = 5,525 scholarships) on all of the Power Five teams.
But Jeff, they just created a bigger gap between the haves and have-nots in resources for college sports!
Yeah, so? They only codified what already existed. If you don’t think there is a gap in resources between Florida State and UCF, or even UCF and, say, Tulane, you’re fooling yourself.
Listen here as Jeff Sharon discusses UCF Football and what the Power Five’s autonomy move means for the Knights with Jerry O’Neill and Eric Lopez on Tuck and O’Neill:
So what does this mean for UCF?
It means they have to win and keep winning. Notice how American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco did not panic at the result, neither in his conference’s statement, nor in his interview with Tuck and O’Neill on Thursday. Indeed, Aresco has presided over the conference’s best-case scenario over the past year, and understands that his league’s bell cows have the resources to compete.
Let’s say the NCAA’s sky really does fall in 2024 when the college basketball TV contract concludes, and the Power Five decide to break off altogether to form their own cartel. The fact is that, if UCF wins in on-field competition against the likes of Penn State, Missouri, Texas and Maryland, they can make a convincing case to be a part of the new division if and when it expands.
Those programs who have poured resources into developing their brands (like UCF, Boise State, USF, East Carolina, Nevada, BYU and Fresno State) plus schools who have a greater basketball profile than football (like UConn and Memphis) are in the catbird’s seat if the Power 65 decides to bump itself up to 80.
Granted, this still puts UCF firmly into a sort of college sports purgatory for the moment, hoping for a Golden Ticket to the Big Boy Club. But UCF cannot act like a puppy dog begging for scraps at the table. It is a big boy, and it has to play like one year in and year out. It has the second-highest enrollment of any public university in the U.S. as of 2014, and it will continue to grow. That, my friends, is a spectacularly large revenue base for athletic programs, once all those students graduate. Money talks even louder than winning.
The people who really need to be worries are the lower-tier AAC and Mountain West teams (like Tulane, Temple and Utah State), as well the entire MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA, who lack the resources but want to play by the same rules as USC, LSU and Ohio State.
And that means UCF fans should stop panicking, keep investing, and make it painfully obvious to the rest of the country that UCF already is a power program.