Now, the NCAA schools, with the major conferences, possibly gaining more fuel, is heading straight into the unknown.
The Power 5 conferences (the SEC, Big-12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast) took a major step toward autonomy Wednesday when the NCAA board of directors voted to give them the power to make unprecedented changes in rules, procedures and operations.
It’s not a done deal, but the Power-5 will get a lot of what they want, which consists of giving unprecedented benefits to its athletes (including stipends/cost of attendance increases). The other 290 schools can still vote to override.
The push for benefits originates from huge profits from TV and marketing contracts and a mounting demand to provide benefits for the student-athletes, who make much of that revenue possible.
During a conversation Thursday with UCA Athletic Director Dr. Brad Teague, I told him I was trying to fully understand the situation.
"I don’t think anybody fully understands it right now," he said.
It’s fluid with lot of variables, not the least of which is the cost of attendance stipend, which allows an increase in the scholarship package to reflect the real cost of living and attendance at different schools. What that is varies greatly even within the Power 5. There’s a lot of difference in Starkville and Nashville, Fayetteville and Palo Alto, Calif.
The biggest concern is the vast difference in resources and revenue among NCAA Division I schools.
"I’m all for student-athletes gettting a share of the money," said Teague. "I hope they are really serious about that. I hope that occurs."
The biggest concern for Teague and some fellow FCS institutions is the trickle-down effect among the mid-majors outside the Power 5. They can’t afford everything to match the Power 5, but they could pick-and-choose some ala carte.
"The biggest fear is how the Sun Belt, whom we compete a lot for athletes, will react and even schools like Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin and Lamar in our conference that have bigger budgets," Teague said. "It’s about some of the pieces they may pick up. What if they decide to offer an extra meal to their athletes? Or fly parents of top recruits to games? It’s things like that that could make a difference in recruiting."
Some have questioned whether an athlete will choose to go to a Power 5 school and sit the bench just to get some extra money. FBS and FCS schools don’t normally go directly against each other for very many athletes.
"If a player wants to join a team and sit the bench for the money, I’m not sure I want him anyway," said Ron Roberts of Southeastern Louisiana.
The ship has set sail.
No one really knows the size of the waves and storms ahead.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or email@example.com or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)