Commissioners of five mid-major conferences have asked the NCAA to temporarily relax its rules on how many sports a school must sponsor – potentially paving the way for cuts to non-revenue sports.
Yahoo Sports reports that the commissioners of the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference, Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt Conference and Conference-USA wrote a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert on behalf of all Division I schools. The commissioners cite economic hardships due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic and ask for temporary breaks from several NCAA rules. A few of the key requests:
- A 4-year relaxation of the NCAA‘s requirement of Division I schools to sponsor at least 16 varsity sports
- Lifting minimum requirements for scholarship spending to athletes
- Lifting requirements for paid attendance at home football games
- A moratorium on schools moving into Division I
The commissioners said the request was not made with the intention of cutting sports, but giving athletic departments flexibility in decision-making. That assurance, though, is contrasted with the fact that on the same day the letter came to light, Cincinnatti (a member of one of the conferences that wrote the letter) cut its men’s soccer program to cut costs. Another school in one of the five named conferences, Old Dominion of C-USA, cut wrestling earlier this month.
Relaxing the rules could allow schools to cut programs or cut scholarships within programs. We’ve already seen a number of Division I swimming & diving programs cut in recent years, including Eastern Michigan (men), Oregon State (women), Buffalo (men), North Dakota (men & women) and Wright State (men & women).
The moratorium on schools joining Division I could also affect Division III swimming power St. Thomas, which was kicked out of its conference after a decade of dominance and a string of blowout scores in football. One option for St. Thomas was a move straight to Division I – the school had actually requested an NCAA waiver for that move after getting an invite to the Division I Summit League. The NCAA is set to weigh in on St. Thomas’s request in a council meeting next week.