Big 5 autonomy a game-changer in college sports

By Ralph D. Russo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, June 6 2014 12:00 p.m. MDT

Boise State opens next season against Alabama's SEC rival, Mississippi. The Broncos also have future games scheduled against Florida State and Washington, among other Big Five schools. For the relatively near future, there will be plenty of football games played between the Big Five conferences and the so-called Group of Five. Those schools in the power conferences still need to fill out a 12-game schedule and aren't in a rush to give up playing home games against teams they will likely beat — and schools that don't demand a game on its field in return.

Geography alone should keep the Pac-12 scheduling Mountain West teams, the SEC dipping into the Sun Belt and the Big Ten matching up against the MAC.

"My world in the West, we recruit against the Pac-12 for decades," Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said. "Have we beaten them in recruiting a lot of those kids? Probably not. But we still play them. We win some games.

"I'm not fearful that we're going to be squeezed out there."

What could change is that opportunities for schools such as Boise State and Northern Illinois of the MAC to pull off David-slays-Goliath-type upsets will start to dwindle.

The College Football Playoff selection committee has been mandated to emphasize strength of schedule. In response, the Big Five schools are increasing the number of games they play against each other, both in and out of conference.

The College Football Playoff structure guarantees a spot in one of the marquee bowl games for at least one team from the Group of Five. And there is nothing that says a team from one of those leagues couldn't play in a national semifinal — but the odds are stacked against it.

Despite threats to make a more dramatic breakaway from the rest of the NCAA if autonomy does not pass, the Big Five commissioners have said they want Division I athletics to remain a big tent, where even the schools that don't play football can compete for championships in other sports. Cinderella stories have helped turn the men's basketball tournament into one of the biggest events in American sports. This week in the college baseball tournament, Kennesaw State and College of Charleston advanced to the super regionals.

South Carolina President Harris Pastides, who is on the steering committee that put together the autonomy proposal and on the board of directors who will vote on it in January, doesn't want to see a breakaway happen.

"If you move completely into a different tent, with a different lock and key and different furnishings, I think that's going to be the beginning of something that may be too difficult to ever get back," he said.

Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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