Knight Commission Recommends Separating FBS From NCAA

The Knight Commission, an independent group of university presidents, recommended that the top level of college football split away from the NCAA to govern itself.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is a reform-minded, independent group of university presidents. The group doesn’t make official decisions for college sports, but several of their previous recommendations have eventually been enacted by the NCAA. The Knight Commission says it produced its recommendation this week after a year of examining NCAA sports.

The Knight Commission recommended that the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) completely separate from the NCAA to form their own governing body. The FBS (made up of the ten biggest Division I conferences and several key independent schools) would govern itself and create its own rules for the sport of football. Meanwhile all non-FBS schools, and non-football sports at FBS schools, would remain governed by the NCAA.

The upshot for swimming: college swimming at all Division I schools would remain under the umbrella of the NCAA. But changes to college football rules (on things like recruiting, paying athletes, or adjusting amateurism rules) would not apply to swimming & diving.

What the change would look like

The current college sports model, the Knight Commission writes, has the NCAA effectively absorbing national expenses for FBS football. But the revenues from the College Football Playoff are retained by the FBS conferences and schools. The Commission calls that model “dysfunctional,” and says that college sports leaders believe the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportune time to overhaul the system.

The Commission recommends the creation of a new group it calls the National College Football Association, or NCFA. That group would be funded by the revenue from the College Football Playoff, and would govern FBS-level college football.

The Knight Commission produced a set of principles to guide the NCFA, which it says would “seek to maintain college sports as a public trust that prioritizes college athletes’ education, health, safety and success.

The NCAA would retain men’s basketball, the other major revenue driver at the college level. The Knight Commission writes that nearly 4 in 5 respondents to their survey said that college basketball’s March Madness system needs to remain in its current format.

Without FBS football in the mix, the NCAA would reorganize its governance to give equal voting representation to all Division I conferences, rather than the current system which gives greater weight to FBS conferences, according to the Knight Commission.

The Knight Commission says three in five schools admitted that they spend too much on FBS football to try to keep pace with other schools. The Commission says that schools could now choose to affiliate with the NCAA, rather than the new NFCA, allowing schools to rebalance their athletic departments without fear of losing ground in college football’s financial arms race.

As college football costs have skyrocketed, multiple Division I schools have cut non-revenue-generating sports like swimming in the past few years. This offseason has been particularly brutal, highlighted by cuts to Iowa’s women’s and men’s swimming & diving programs.

The Knight Commission will present these recommendations to the NCAA in January.

NCAA Response

The NCAA released a brief statement on the Knight Commission recommendations. The statement was relatively non-committal, saying only that the NCAA is “discussing the long-term sustainability of intercollegiate athletics.” The full statement is below:

“The governance and oversight of college sports are determined by the presidents of the schools who participate. The nearly 1,100 presidents of NCAA schools have consistently sought to create the most effective and fair ways to support student athletes.  Presently, the NCAA is discussing the long-term sustainability of intercollegiate athletics. These discussions are focused on promoting the education, health and safety and fair treatment of college athletes. NCAA members within Division I have long sought to include a diverse representation of schools while supporting all student-athletes in similar ways.”

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pete kennedy
5 months ago

As I predicted years ago. A move to professionalize collegiate sports (football with BB to soon follow).

Reply to  pete kennedy
5 months ago

Actually not. Other than “use of image, likeness, etc.” which is coming for all athletes, this move would increase revenue for universities from football unleashing the full potential for athletic departments. It also would encourage those schools that can’t run football programs without student fees and university funds to drop football. This gives more money for other sports if football isn’t siphoning off $$$$s. It could also set the stage for price control on football coaches salaries and off field support personnel which is what is pushing costs. I see this as a positive for college swimming.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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