This is a story that came out last weekend right in the middle of the Final Four, and I've been trying to find an opening to write about it. It's Friday, so let's go.
It's no secret that Division I-A is stretched in size beyond reason. Florida and Florida Atlantic are not really on the same level, and no one can seriously think that Georgia and Georgia State belong in the same division. And that's just football—basketball can get even more absurd with over 340 teams in Division I.
At some point, there will have to be another split like what happened when football Division I split into I-A and I-AA in 1978. The non-power schools in the current I-A will go bankrupt trying to keep up. Mark Emmert said last week that he has brought up governance changes with some university presidents to address the big money gap, but former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey expects to see another divisional split over money and control. John Calipari would agree, as he told the Sporting News recently that he expects the top four power conferences to split away from the rest before he retires.
Mike Slive, ever the lawyer and politician, acknowledges "shaken confidence" among some Division I members but stops short of predicting another divisional split. He says he believes in Emmert's ability to bridge the differences among Division I members.
Dempsey says that in 1996, the power conferences threatened to break off into their own league if the NCAA governance structure didn't change. Unsurprisingly, it changed to give the 11 I-A conferences more power. He thinks the threat of a split will always be there as a bargaining chip, and I have to agree. I see a possible split being a longer term issue, certainly not happening before the BCS decides what it wants to do for the 2014 season. It probably has more of a 10-year horizon.
As the power conferences have consolidated membership and some have started their own TV networks, they've gotten more rich and powerful than ever. At some point, they're going to wonder why they're splitting the $1 billion March Madness pot with bureaucrats that sanction programs based on outdated and/or arbitrary rules. It's only a matter of time before a real big split happens.