The 10-point proposal sent out by Pac-12 presidents to the presidents of the other four major football conferences (Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, and ACC) addresses many hot button issues surrounding college sports and the rights and responsibilities of student-athletes. While the timing of the proposals is clearly to related to a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that student-athletes should have the right to unionize, the outlined reforms are part of bigger agenda held by the five major conferences to gain greater autonomy from the regulatory structures of the NCAA that attempt to govern both large and small schools evenly.
Several months ago, NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged that the ongoing effort of the major conferences to be autonomous from the rest of the NCAA is gaining in acceptance, but it is likely to be contested by administrators and athletic departments from schools outside of the major conferences. Some equate the push for major conference autonomy to a type of imperialism that threatens the somewhat even playing field that has allowed teams like Butler, VCU, and Gonzaga to be legitimate contenders in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament.
The protests aren't limited to the mention of Cinderellas that make an perennial appearances to the "Big Dance." This article from Sporting News contributor John Infante raises a legitimate question about the new line that would separate schools like TCU and Utah, who recently entered into major conferences, from schools like Connecticut and Boise State. Infante accuses the Pac-12 presidents of basically being opportunists in the wake of the heightened criticism directed towards the NCAA over the treatment of student athletes to push an agenda that sets major conferences schools apart from their on-major conference competitors.
Don't expect the Pac-12 presidents to be nominated for the Noble Peace Prize for their tireless efforts in support of exploited student-athletes anytime soon.
The letter from the Pac-12 presidents should be interpreted more as "the shot heard around the world" than a manifesto for revolution. Revolution has been in the air for quite some time. In fact, SB Nation's Kevin Trahan wrote this piece several weeks ago that discusses the looming changes and foreshadows the presidents' letter that just surfaced to the public.
The advantage of the autonomy would really manifest itself in the recruiting arms race. Football recruits have been known to send messages across Twitter like, "Hey, I'm BCS bound, just committed to school X." This made perfect sense in light of the old BCS system schools in the major conferences had clear inroads towards playing in major bowl games. There was a prestige for playing in a major conference that made a lot of sense with football With the BCS now being history, you are likely to see tweets like, "Just got an offer from a major conference school" and it won't be confined to football. Athletes in all sports will be after coveted major conference offers and disregard non-major school offers as last options.
As an unabashedly biased Coug, I have to say that I kind of like some of the implications of the new system. I mean what system is unjust so long as you are on the inside looking out? Let's look at some of the biggest rages WSU fans have found themselves in over the past several weeks.
First, Shadle Park's Brett Rypien committed to Boise State over WSU after having narrowed down his final decision between the two schools. A lot of Coug fans were in dismay that local talent related to a former WSU standout-turned-pro could turn the Cougs down to go further away from home. But, in the bigger, non-subjective picture, the Boise State option didn't look that bad considering the national exposure BSU has had for the past decade. With these proposed changes, would BSU have even found itself in the mix of Rypien's finalists? Choosing BSU over WSU just suddenly became a little less rational.
Just a week later, more bad news surfaced from Spokane as it was discovered that Gonzaga essentially reworked the standing arrangement the schools had to play "home-and-road" on alternating years. Well, guess what, Mark Few? You might be able to easily handle the objections of prospective recruits that playing Pacific, Pepperdine and Portland doesn't generate much exposure, but now what are you going to tell them that you aren't in a major conference? That glass slipper just got a little more brittle.
Still, I consider myself to be like most fans that has a deep appreciation for the underdog and the ability some schools outside of the major conferences have shown to run with the big dogs. Under this proposal, the line of distinction between major conferences and non-major conferences will be so thick that it will inevitably lead to a insurmountable competitive advantage for major conference schools. And even though WSU might now have a status advantage over the regional small schools that it sometimes competes with for recruits and in actual contests, it isn't clear whether or not this would be Cougar teams more competitive in the Pac-12 conference overall.
So what do you see as the implications of major conference autonomy and what sort of reactions do you anticipate to these proposed changes? How do you think things would look for WSU in the future as a major conference school?