Ravell Call, Deseret News
BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is interviewed during BYU Football Media Day in Provo, Monday, June 23, 2014.
The issue of 65 breaking off is all because of money. Why not say nobody breaks off unless they are operating in the black? College sports is becoming more and more commercialized and like professional football. —Bronco Mendenhall

If 65 Power 5 athletic programs want to create a new NCAA division, they’d better come through with the coin. Right now, most are not balancing their checkbooks.

That’s the warning from BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall, whose school is one of only 25 Division I universities operating in the black.

“The issue of 65 breaking off is all because of money. Why not say nobody breaks off unless they are operating in the black? College sports is becoming more and more commercialized and like professional football,” said Mendenhall.

In August, college presidents will vote on whether to create another division, one where the so-called power conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — will not be burdened with picky rules of how they can cater to their athletes. It’s called autonomy. After a recall period, it will become NCAA law. It will pass because of a super majority held by such schools.

Mendenhall isn’t saying that athletes don’t deserve more of the pie — it's just many athletic programs aren’t paying for the pie. This could be rectified by huge TV contracts that will dump truckloads of cash into those legacy leagues in years to come. Or not.

According to the NCAA’s revenue and expenditure report of 2013, only 20 athletic departments reported positive revenue flows. In 2011, it was up to 22 from just 11. Both private Notre Dame and BYU operate in the black.

This past week, the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten released a statement explaining what this “full cost of a college education” that they are fighting for really means. It’s a good thing.

From the statement:

  • "We must guarantee the four-year scholarships that we offer. If a student-athlete is no longer able to compete, for whatever reason, there should be zero impact on our commitment as universities to deliver an undergraduate education. We want our students to graduate.
  • "If a student-athlete leaves for a pro career before graduating, the guarantee of a scholarship remains firm. Whether a professional career materializes, and regardless of its length, we will honor a student’s scholarship when his or her playing days are over. Again, we want students to graduate.
  • "We must review our rules and provide improved, consistent medical insurance for student-athletes. We have an obligation to protect their health and well-being in return for the physical demands placed upon them.
  • "We must do whatever it takes to ensure that student-athlete scholarships cover the full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government. That definition is intended to cover what it actually costs to attend college."

All this will cost big money. But it is worthy that these CEOs want to share the wealth with players, except for paying them a salary. After all, amateurism must be maintained, they say.

Most schools cannot operate an athletic department on their own. They require subsidies, including "student activity fees," to make it work. "LSU, Nebraksa, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Purdue and Texas were the only schools to report no subsidy money in 2012," USA Today reported.

According to the NCAA's report, "58 percent of football programs and 56 percent of men’s basketball programs are self-sufficient. Only one women’s basketball program is.

"The two biggest drivers of athletic revenue are ticket sales and alumni donations.

"The two biggest expenses are scholarships and employee salaries. Those two items alone make up more than 50 percent of all expenses."

Anyway, it looks like there will be another division in college sports, one designed to separate the haves from the have-nots even more than what we’ve seen.

46 comments on this story

It is progress: These are meaningful gains for the student-athletes — for those schools who can afford it. And with all the lawsuits and threats to unionize, college athletics must do something about how student-athletes are currently left out of the billions of dollars.

Question is, when all the TV money is brought into the coffers, just how much will actually trickle down to athletes after huge salaries and the ever-ongoing race to build bigger and more modern facilities are taken into account?

And who will still operate in the red?

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.