Is it only a matter of time before the Big Ten and SEC football break away from the NCAA? Probably, and here’s why I think that.
The Big Ten announced a massive media rights deal that makes their individual schools the most money out of any other school in any other conference. SEC football, which is on par with the Big Ten in terms of the most desired conference in college football expansion, may be looking to expand further to renegotiate its media rights contract but needs to expand to reopen its current media rights deal.
Both conferences will be at 16 institutions each starting the fall of 2024 and both could expand to 20 each by 2026.
Now, why would both the Big Ten and SEC leave the NCAA due to expanding their membership? The answer is to make everyone happy financially within their individual institutions.
The commissioner of the Big Ten, Kevin Warren, is looking to possibly extend to 20 teams and more importantly in terms of breaking away from the NCAA, pay individual players from their media rights deal. Yes, student-athletes can receive money through name, image, and likeness (NIL) but there is no guarantee that all members of a program’s football team, for example, get paid a minimum amount of money per year while they are student-athletes.
The NCAA still regulates NIL and has rules and restrictions about how student-athletes are financially compensated. Leaving the NCAA would allow the Big Ten and SEC to make their own rules in terms of player financial compensation.
Why is compensation for student-athletes so important even after many collegiate athletes now receive NIL money? A couple of reasons with the first and foremost being that student-athletes need to be fairly compensated. The Big Ten signing a multi-billion media rights deal and not giving their athletes at their individual schools any of that money doesn’t seem fair. Fairly compensating the student-athletes who are participating in the sports which is the reason for the media rights deals only seems fair.
There are other reasons as well why both conferences could benefit from leaving the NCAA.
Recruiting well seems to be the consensus among many college coaches as the lifeline of their programs achieving short and long-term success. Being able to financially compensate their student-athletes more than any other programs outside the Big Ten and SEC would give coaches like Nick Saban and Mel Tucker a huge advantage in recruiting against schools from the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12. Leaving the NCAA would give the Big Ten and SEC schools major advantages in recruiting the top student-athletes out of high school. There is another main reason as well.
If the Big Ten and SEC leave the NCAA they can increase the number of scholarships they can give their student-athletes within their athletic programs. For example, in division one basketball, the basketball scholarship limits are 13 for men’s basketball and 15 for women’s basketball. As long as the Big Ten and SEC are in compliance with Title IX, they can easily increase the scholarship limit from 13 to 15 for their men’s programs which would give coaches like Kentucky’s John Calipari and Michigan’s Juwan Howard two extra scholarships to use for example.
An increase in football scholarships would benefit Big Ten and SEC programs as well.
As it stands now, the NCAA allows FBS football programs to have 85 scholarships even though the average team size is approximately 118 players. If the Big Ten and SEC wanted to increase the scholarship limit to 95 for example, it could if they were to break away from the NCAA.
In order to be Title IX compliant, Big Ten and SEC schools can increase the scholarship limits in women’s sports like track & field from 18 to 22, volleyball from 12 to 14, and softball from 12 to 16. Not only do sports like football would get an increase in available scholarships, but so would multiple women’s sports programs.
How possible is it really that the SEC and Big Ten leave the NCAA in the near future? Let’s take a further look at why it makes sense to possibly leave the NCAA.