The Knight Commission on Thursday recommended separating major-college football and the College Football Playoff from the NCAA as part of a sweeping reform of college athletics.
The new football entity would be called the National College Football Association. The NCFA – made up of the 130 current Football Bowl Subdivision schools — would be funded by the CFP. The new group would manage all issues related to education, health, safety, litigation, eligibility, enforcement and revenue distribution in major-college football.
The NCAA would then govern only basketball as major revenue-generating sport in Division I. It would continue to oversee the other so-called minor sports. The NCAA is made up of approximately 1,100 schools, 350-plus of those play Division I basketball. The recommendations were shared with NCAA president Mark Emmert earlier Thursday. The association and CFP did not immediately have comment.
The 31-year old Knight Commission is a reform-minded college athletics watchdog based in Washington, D.C.
The commission’s move comes from a long-standing frustration that FBS and the Power Five conferences have a weighted advantage in NCAA voting on issues, particularly when it comes to NCAA revenue distribution. That, despite the NCAA not sponsoring a championship in FBS.
“This governance structure has been broken,” said Knight Commission co-chair Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama. “It’s been disproportionately controlled by those with a small interest in not looking out for every athlete in every sport.”
A so-called “breakaway” from the NCAA by the major football-playing schools has long been speculated. While there is increasing criticism of and lack of faith in the NCAA from members, especially during the pandemic, no such movement seems imminent.
However, major-college sports are reaching a tipping point. The NCAA is defending multiple lawsuits attacking its amateurism model while trying to implement athletes’ name, image and likeness rights. Athlete empowerment is on the rise. The association and its schools are increasingly going to the federal government for help in protecting the status quo.
The Knight Commission contends NCAA governance, “is no longer keeping pace with the rapid commercial growth of college athletics, particularly FBS football.” Creating the NCFA would end the NCAA’s “financially dysfunctional system of governance,” where the NCAA absorbs expenses for major-college football without receiving financial benefits.
Specifically, the commission says the NCAA is on the hook for FBS expenses in enforcement, catastrophic insurance, legal services, health and safety administration without sharing in CFP riches. The CFP gets approximately $475 million per year in media rights revenue from ESPN. More than 80% of that money goes to the Power Five.
The NCAA derives more than 80% of its annual revenue from the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. The new model would reorganize NCAA governance around basketball, said Amy Perko, Knight Commission CEO.
“All Division I schools have one thing in common. They all offer the sport of basketball,” Perko said. “That is the only sport that 100% of the members offer. That also funds most of the NCAA’s operations and revenue.”
In theory, the NCFA could raise scholarship limits beyond the current 85 and relax current NCAA enforcement standards.
With the NCFA breaking off from the NCAA the Knight Commission believes the association would adhere more to “core principles of higher education.”
“What we’re trying to recommend here is not the Wild, Wild West,” said commission member Jacques McClendon, director of player engagement for the Los Angeles Rams. “What we see is an opportunity for better alignment. The CFP operates outside the NCAA. Power Five sits on the fringe of the NCAA for better or worse.”
The recommendations will be presented to the NCAA Presidential Forum, made up one CEO from each of the 32 Division I conferences.
“Often when we’ve made recommendations people have often thought they were pie-in-the-sky,” said Knight co-chair Carol Cartwright. “But as more people have gotten into the discussion, the ideas have taken hold.”
The recommendations emerged from a Knight Commission survey that found 61% of Power Five schools supported establishing a separate division apart from the NCAA. The survey was distributed to approximately 1,500 college administrators. Only 362 responded.
The Knight Commission has spent the last year making a series of major recommendations through its “Transforming the NCAA Division I Model” initiative.