“Division 4” Has Potential To Permanently Change College BasketballPosted by BHayes on July 24th, 2013
In the game of musical chairs that has dominated the college sports landscape for the last decade, there is little question as to which sport is driving the frantic conference realignment. For all the interest that college basketball creates, football is the clear money-maker – clear enough that conference affiliation decisions are made primarily with just one sport in mind. We have already seen a number of classic college basketball rivalries die off (Syracuse-Georgetown and Kansas-Missouri to name two) in the carnage that football created– but brace yourself that damage may be just the tip of the iceberg. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd has reported that a number of BCS conference commissioners are getting comfortable with the idea of a “Division 4”, where the Big Five conferences – the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, ACC, and SEC (bye bye Big East/American Conference, as the Big Six loses one) – would create their own college football division, effectively shunning any non-BCS program from the highest level of college competition. The idea is far from a finished product and exact ramifications on college basketball are unclear at this point, but the threat of this “Division 4” has to cause concern for those on the basketball side of things.
If the Division 4 model becomes a reality, college football’s non-elite, those lovable “BCS-busters”, will find a sharp and sudden extinction. But what happens in this scenario to the non-BCS basketball programs? Dodd doesn’t hypothesize on the larger impact that Division 4 would have on athletic programs, but with the model now allowing BCS schools to operate in a for-profit model (and no longer looking to the NCAA for their rules), college basketball’s competitive balance would be dealt a heavy, heavy blow.
If we assume that the NCAA Tournament stays intact (and that is no safe assumption), the parity that so often enlivens the Tournament’s first weekend may be harder to find, as the gap between BCS and non-BCS teams would grow significantly greater, with the BCS programs now capable of doing whatever they want (handing out stipends, increasing practice time, and decreasing academic requirements) while non-BCS teams are still forced to abide by NCAA rules. Could we find another Florida Gulf Coast with Division 4 in place? Even more unlikely would be another Butler or VCU run to the Final Four, as the nation’s elite would most surely rise from Division 4.
ACC commissioner John Swofford said that the framework for Division 4 could begin to be formally discussed within the next six months so this isn’t a story to tuck in your back pocket and bring back out in fifteen years. It’s happening now. Scarily enough, the immediate impact it would have on college basketball remains but an ancillary concern, and it is impossible to fully realize the scope of the potential change right now. But in a sport where underdogs too often thrive and fans spend March seeking Cinderella, a dismembering of the current setup – a playing field that, while not perfectly even, is also not overly lopsided – would mean a complete reshaping of the narrative that fans have fallen in love with. We all know that football is the straw that stirs the drink – we can only hope that the college basketball we currently know doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.