Survey shows majority of Power 5 athletic leaders favor major restructuring of NCAA sports

Heather DinichESPN Senior Writer3 Minute Read

A majority of Power 5 athletic leaders who participated in a recent survey were "very or somewhat likely" to support the creation of a fourth division within the NCAA for the Power 5 conferences to compete in sports other than basketball, according to data released Tuesday by the Knight Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics.

The 15-minute online survey revealed a willingness by athletic administrators to consider reforms that would radically restructure Division I's most competitive levels, including separating FBS football from the NCAA, but almost 80% of participants indicated it is "essential" to keep all current Division I schools in the same men's basketball tournament.

The survey of 362 people included university presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners, faculty athletic representatives, senior women administrators and 10 students.

The survey, which was conducted June 18-July 14 by Shugoll Research of Bethesda, Maryland, revealed "widespread dissatisfaction" with current Division I governance and concern about the growing disparity in financial resources.

"It's clear from our survey that college leaders acknowledge that the status quo is no longer acceptable," said Knight Commission co-chair Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University, in a prepared statement. "This survey demonstrates that broad support for a new model for Division I is even more pressing after the pandemic, as college athletics leaders realize their business models must change -- and radically."

While the Power 5 conferences -- the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC -- are the wealthiest and most influential leagues, nearly 60% of survey respondents from non-Power 5 institutions oppose creating a fourth NCAA division.

According to the survey, 65% of respondents from Division I institutions without football were in favor of separating FBS football from the NCAA and creating a new entity to manage that sport. However, 42% of FBS respondents oppose such a change.

The Knight Commission conducted the survey as part of a larger examination to consider an overhaul of the current NCAA model. While the survey results indicated a clear overarching message that athletic decision-makers would like to see sweeping reforms, their opinions also reflected the different circumstances and needs among the NCAA Division I's three subdivisions -- the FBS, FCS and Division I schools without football.

Finances were a major part of the data, as 79% of respondents agreed there is too much financial-resource disparity among schools. Last year, Division I athletic department budgets ranged from $4 million to more than $200 million.

Of those surveyed, 59% conceded they spend too much on FBS football to "keep up" with other schools -- including half of Power 5 campus leaders, and about two-thirds of their Group of 5 peers.

The survey found widespread support to contain athletic spending, including conference-level agreements to cap sports' operating budgets -- including coaching salaries (62%). More than 80% of the Power 5 respondents supported an antitrust exemption to control athletic costs. The results come at a time when all athletic programs are facing financial shortfalls from the coronavirus pandemic.

Collectively, Division I schools annually receive more than $1 billion from the NCAA and College Football Playoff, but the survey revealed clear dissatisfaction in the ways that both the NCAA and CFP distributions are shared. Only 24% of presidents and 25% of athletic directors are satisfied with the NCAA's current revenue-distribution formula.

As is reflective of their participation in the CFP -- which has featured all Power 5 conferences -- nearly 70% of the Power 5 respondents are satisfied with the event's revenue distribution. Almost half of the Group of Five respondents expressed dissatisfaction.

Overall, fewer than one-third of all respondents indicated satisfaction with NCAA governance, including 30% or fewer of presidents, athletic directors and commissioners.

"The Division I model has needed an overhaul for many years now, and our survey shows that most college sports leaders recognize the need for fundamental change in the structure and governance of college sports," said the commission's co-chair, Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education. "The work ahead is much broader than adopting a few new policies."

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