There is zero reason why, in the event that the power conferences decide to form their own (a) set of rules within FBS, (b) distinct subdivision within D1, (c) their own division within the NCAA’s auspices, or (d) a new, fully distinct governing body that the basketball tournament in March needs to change.
Imagine the most extreme scenario, (d), where literally the five power conferences flat out leave the NCAA and form, say, the Power Conference Athletic Association (PCAA — conveniently could also be the Professional Collegiate Athletic Association if the show started fitting). We know they would be able to command a hefty licensing fee to broadcast an end-of-year tournament with the better half of the schools. But it might not command as much as the current march Madness that includes another 30-40 schools out of the 290 or so schools that comprise the rest of D1.
On the other hand, with the P5 gone, the remaining 27 D1 conference would certainly not be able to command as much money as the NCAA currently does for march madness, since virtually every winner (other than schools that would be left behind and scrambling to join the P5, primarily UConn) would have left.
Indeed, it’s arguable that that the sum of the two separate licensing fees would be worth less than the current joint product.
And therein lies the source of the ridiculousness of the claim that the current configuration would die.
Imagine this. The P5 face a choice. Stay exclusive and keep 100% of a smaller pie for the PCAA Exclusive Tourney. Or, host the PCAA Invitation, an annual challenge between the best of the PCAA and a select set of NCAA teams. Set up a PCAA committee that invites, oh, say, 10 good teams from the rest of D1 (i.e, from the NCAA) and then also the conference winner of each small conference tournament whether they are good or not. Offer to pay them enough money for an appearance (and more for a win) that it makes saying yes more lucrative than staying behind in what’s left of the NCAA tournament.
The pie grows. Each invited non-PCAA school may get less money than they would if the NCAA never divided, but that world is gone (in my hypothetical). They are getting far more than if they refuse an invitation. So to say no, they would have to choose the less profitable, less fan-friendly option.
For the PCAA members themselves, they would make more money because even after paying the invited non-PCAA teams, the surplus is all theirs. Why assume a surplus? Well, if not, then the whole idea that the Cinderellas are what make March Madness valuable to CBS is false. If viewership is really enhanced by the mix of big and small schools, the PCAA will have enough to invite the small and pocket the surplus. And so then for them,also, not inviting the small schools would be a choice for a less profitable, less fan-friendly option.
No I am not saying that hard heads and irrationality might not rule the day. The NCAA currently has a rule preventing teams from playing non-NCAA oppoonents. That would have to change. if the scenario outlined above occurs, not changing that rule would be a form of seppuku. But don’t put it past an organization built on platitudes and monopoly rent dissipation to make an irrational decision not to evolve. I’m just saying that to the extent a solution is sought, it is right there for everyone to see, and just up to the business people to make happen.
Now before you start to say that it is impossible for schools with different sets of rules on number of scholarships or the maximum value of a scholarship to play each other, please remember that currently:
- FCS football teams play against FBS football teams despite different numbers of scholarships and despite the fact that most FCS athletes get less than a full scholarship.
- The Ivy League does not give any athletic scholarships, but participates in the FCS playoffs and in March Madness.
- The whole idea of a Cinderella in basketball is that we know the players at Kansas get far more in all sorts of ways than the players at Bucknell, and even though Kansas’s self-reported basketball revenue from 2013 ($16,412,415) is more than 8 times larger than Bucknell’s ($2,025,127), and their expenditures are more than 5 times as large.
In golf and tennis we have zero problem with the idea of an “open” tournament, featuring pros and amateurs. We usually cheer on the amateur even though we know it’s unlikely he’ll win it all. Just beating a few of the pros is victory enough. Same too with the Cinderellas in a basketball tournament. Knowing Mercer didn’t ultimately win it all didn’t make their victory over Duke less fun.
The PCAA Invitational would be a popular, successful open tournament featuring the best of the PCAA and the NCAA. There would be upsets. Dominant teams from the power conferences would almost win. Just like today’s March Madness.
And just as it could work with a full on divorce between the PCAA and NCAA, so too it would be even easier to manage under any of the less extreme scenarios. it comes down to the fact that if cooperation makes the pie larger, then the rest is just fighting over who gets the biggest slice. Which is what is really going on now.