SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Sports Illustrated that he believes the splintering of college sports to the NCAA Division I level is “inevitable” and places a potential target date on this seismic shift in the mid-2030s. Swarbrick also said there is ” so many” schools trying to leave their current conferences, but were handcuffed by existing contracts.
In an extensive interview with IFthe only athletic director who serves on the college football playoff management committee said the fault lines within the 130-member FBS could leave two disparate approaches: schools still harnessing athletics in a traditional educational structure and those that link sport to the university. in name only.
“There has always been some kind of spectrum – and I want to stress that all along the spectrum is valid; it’s not a criticism,” Swarbrick said. “At one end of the spectrum, you license the school name and run an independent business that is dedicated to sports. At the other end of the spectrum, you are embedded in the university in terms of decision-making and requirements, and some follow that.
“I think both can produce great sporting competition. But it’s really difficult to get there given the contractual obligations that already exist.
And when those contractual obligations start to wear thin, that’s when big changes can happen.
“Without a national standard, which I don’t see coming, I think it’s inevitable,” Swarbrick said. “The mid-1930s would be the logical time.”
The Southeastern Conference Media Rights Agreement runs through 2033–34. The Atlantic coast goes through 2035–36. The Big Ten is now in its negotiating window, with Fox Sports positioned to be the main stakeholder. The Pac-12 and the Big 12 are next on the clock.
Should the schism occur, Notre Dame would be among those who still tied its athleticism to the school’s educational mission and answered to its president and academic administration. Others could essentially be created while retaining the school’s name and branding. A theoretical example (not offered by Swarbrick): Oregon Ducks Athletics, Inc.
The location of the 130 schools within this spectrum would depend on individual institutional choice.
The Big Ten and the SEC are expected to continue to leave behind the rest of the Power Five conferences in terms of revenue. The widening gap will put more pressure on the current landscape, leading some schools to move away from their existing conference affiliations and possibly leading some leagues to start long-time members who don’t bring as much. at the bottom of income.
“We’re going to have these two conferences that have gotten so far away from anybody financially,” Swarbrick said. “That’s when I see it starting to fall apart. There are so many schools trying to get out of their current conference, and they can’t make it.
Asked which schools might consider moving, Swarbrick replied, “None that I would share.”
The SEC destabilizing acquisition of Texas and Oklahoma played a role in halting progress toward a 12-team college football playoff, a concept Swarbrick helped bring to the table last June. He, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby formed the subcommittee that crafted the plan.
After initially being hailed as a welcome expansion in many circles, the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 eventually voiced their concerns and dug in as a unified opposition. This led to a series of unproductive CFP meetings that Swarbrick described as “the weirdest thing I’ve ever had.”
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Swarbrick specifically pushed back against the idea that Sankey was trying to orchestrate playoff expansion as a way to lure Texas and Oklahoma into his league. “It’s complete bullshit,” he said. “Greg is really smart, but no one is that Machiavellian. I had my own opinions, Thompson had them, Bowlsby had them. We weren’t manipulated by Greg. [The playoff] will end at 12 p.m.
Conference realignment market forces — triggered again by last summer’s stunning deal for Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 for the SEC no later than 2025 — more unprecedented player compensation and movement leave college sports at a crossroads. Amid unprecedented instability and change, Swarbrick and others search for the best way forward.
“I’ve been toying with a whole bunch of concepts, most of which probably don’t work,” said Swarbrick, 68, who has been an DA at Notre Dame since 2008. “But we need to get something advanced that people will react.
“My goal was to direct this to a safe harbor – maybe it’s a pipe dream. Especially take the word safe out. I’d really like to try to facilitate something that people will consider at least nationally. See if we can make progress. I would hate to leave without trying.
Swarbrick gave no details on his potential plan for how college athletics should go. But he identified several areas of acute need.
When asked if the current landscape of name, image and likeness is sustainable, the answer was an emphatic no. Recruitment incentives were not the original idea, but that is what NIL has become in many cases.
“It turned into talent acquisition fees so quickly that it’s just staggering,” he said. “Two things happened. The schools that did [under the table] it’s been a long time since they had a way of describing it now and being covered. It created quite a pressure on other schools who said, “Oh my god, we have to do this too.”
“We went from what people thought was an overly restrictive market to the most free labor market in sports history.”
Does Swarbrick see the NCAA enforcement having a chance to master it?
“No. I hate to be so pessimistic, but it’s been many years since they’ve had one,” he said. “I can see a lot of that [rules compliance and enforcement] be transferred to conferences.
Swarbrick predicts that the current NIL market will seriously harm Olympic sports as investment and donations continue to lean towards revenue-generating sports.
“I hate to see this,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the federal government approaches it. If all of that income goes disproportionately to men, even though you didn’t set it up, how does Title IX analyze that? »
With the NCAA turning more and more to Congress to create uniform NIL legislation, Swarbrick would like to see politicians working through the already existing framework of the Amateur Sport Act 1978.
“The Olympic system was just as broken then as collegiate sports is now,” Swarbrick said. “Use this bill as a vehicle. Just edit it to address some of the key issues here and in doing so protect Olympic sports.
But lawmakers Swarbrick spoke to aren’t too receptive to the idea, and some of them seem less optimistic than NCAA members about congressional intervention.
“I was talking to a Republican senator and he was like, ‘I keep reading that y’all are saying we can finally do something when the Republicans take over the House, the Senate and the Presidency,'” a Swarbrick said. . “But it’s going to be a much more libertarian congress. They will not want to participate simply for anti-regulatory reasons.
“We don’t get [reform leadership] of the NCAA. It will have to come from elsewhere. It’s interesting how difficult it is to get university presidents to work together. It’s not that they resist it. They just have too much to do.
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