Does college football need the NCAA to run the sport? Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff doesn’t think so. He also doesn’t believe he’s alone.
“We have to be realistic about the fact that football is a unique animal among the rest of the college sports and that there are conferences that should be more aligned and should be more in control of the future of high-level college football,” Kliavkoff told The Athletic on Friday.
“I’ve had conversations with several of the FBS commissioners, and I’ve been surprised by the unanimous support for the idea among the folks that I’ve spoken to about taking football rule-making and football rule enforcement out of the NCAA and investing it in an organization that is run by the 10 (FBS) conferences.”
Whether that model should be under the purview of the College Football Playoff — which is managed by the 10 FBS conferences plus Notre Dame — or in a separate but similar governing body led by one administrator but supported by representatives from all FBS leagues, Kliavkoff said he wasn’t sure. He doesn’t know the feelings of the commissioners he hasn’t spoken to yet, but he said he expects the group will discuss the topic when it meets next week at commissioners’ meetings in Park City, Utah. Among the regularly scheduled meetings that will take place is an CFP-specific meeting, with those 10 FBS commissioners.
“Having a trade organization that represents more than 1,000 schools (across Divisions I, II and III) that operate in very different business models is very difficult,” Kliavkoff said. “Coming up with a common set of rules that make sense for everyone was difficult before (the) Alston (Supreme Court ruling), and after Alston coming up with rules and particularly enforcing those roles, has proven to be nearly impossible.
“For me, it would make sense to have self-governance for a smaller group of conferences than the 32 that currently make up Division I. But that doesn’t necessarily mean being separate from the NCAA. You can do that within the NCAA, similar to the way certain autonomy was given to the (Power 5) conferences for certain issues.”
Kliavkoff said he understands that enforcing rules would require an enforcement arm similar to what the NCAA has, and that there would need to be bureaucratic elements to any non-NCAA entity formed to manage football. He also said he thinks five conferences governing the sport is “too small” but that 32 conferences governing all of college sports is “too big.”
“The way I think about it is: Control of everything related to college football with the exception of the media rights during the regular season would vest in one organization — setting the rules, enforcing the rules and running the postseason,” Kliavkoff said.
Kliavkoff is not alone in sharing this type of sentiment. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith spoke earlier this spring about the CFP potentially running college football. And ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said last month that he believes “it’s time for us to look at alternative models for football, outside of maybe what we have right now. If we’re ever going to do something — and I hear about the future of football and taking care of the sport of football — this is the time to do it. This is the time to do it, when you’re reorganizing a structure like the NCAA.”
Phillips is a member of the Division I Transformation Committee, which is tasked with charting the course for the future of Division I. While it is working in the weeds on specific rule changes, it is also ultimately going to set minimum requirements for DI membership and examine who should govern what. There has long been criticism from those in the most well-resourced leagues that they don’t have enough in common with the least-resourced schools under the DI umbrella for everyone to be subject to the same rules and regulations.
“What are you doing with the sport of football?” Phillips said. “Does it need to be managed separately? Do you need to have a governance structure? Those are questions we should be asking ourselves. And when I say the sport of football, I’m really talking about the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame. Those are the conferences that have said we are committed to this type of resourcing.”
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)