DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference sent a strong message to the NCAA on Friday: provide the Big Five some autonomy or they'll form their own division.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said if the Big Five conferences — which also include the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — don't get the flexibility needed to create their own bylaws, the next step would be to move to "Division IV."
"It's not something we want to do," Slive said on the final day of the SEC meetings. "We want to the ability to have autonomy in areas that has a nexus to the well-being of student athletes. I am somewhat optimistic it will pass, but if it doesn't, our league would certainly want to move to a Division IV. My colleagues, I can't speak for anybody else, but I'd be surprised if they didn't feel the same way."
Moving to Division IV would keep the Big Five under the NCAA umbrella while granting college football's biggest money makers the kind of power to better take care of student-athletes. The SEC, for example, would like to pay full cost of college attendance, provide long-term medical coverage and offer incentives to kids who return to school and complete degrees.
Smaller Division 1 schools likely can't afford the changes the major conferences are seeking. And while D-II and D-III have their own rules, forming a D-IV would seemingly create a wider divide between the Big Five and other smaller schools.
Slive, however, said a potential move wouldn't disrupt championship formats, including the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
"I've been so optimistic that we're going to stay in Division I that we haven't sat down and tried to map it out," Slive said. "But we know that failure to create what we're trying to create would result in doing something different. How we would construct a Division IV? We haven't looked in that.
"We hope everyone realizes we are moving into a new era and this is the way to retain your collegiate model. It would be a disappointment and in my view a mistake not to adapt the model. This is a historic moment. If we don't seize the moment, we'll make a mistake."
Florida President Bernie Machen wasn't nearly as confident about staying in Division I.
"We're in a squeeze here," Machen said. "There are now six lawsuits that name our conference in them that specifically have to do with the whole cost of attendance and stuff like that. We would like to make changes, but we can't because the NCAA doesn't allow us to. We're really caught between a rock and a hard place. We desperately would like some flexibility."