Confusion… chaos… uncertainty.
With fingers pointed upwards to test the wind currents, NCAA committees, administrators and politicians are weighing several plans to reshape collegiate sports — that is, football — as they try to make sense of excessive name, image and likeness inducements and wild free agent transfers.
Consider the range of possibilities.
➜ Members of the California State Assembly attempted a complicated bill to, among other things, require colleges and universities in the state to set aside half of football revenue, less scholarships, players of this sport. At Southern Cal, that’s estimated at around $200,000 per player. The bill was struck down in committee on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try again… and thus threaten football funding for Olympic Division I sports.
➜ Federal legislation is desperately needed to bring all states into reasonable compliance with NIL payments, especially where recruiting is involved. However, NCAA leaders were unable to influence Congress to put safeguards on the Supreme Court’s decision.
➜ Universities must determine how to allocate the newly court-approved “participation fee” bonus, which can be up to $5,980 for student-athletes.
At Illinois, simple eligibility will suffice for the full amount presented to all male and female athletes receiving full or partial scholarships, as well as full payouts to a number of extras. If there are 500 beneficiaries, the payments amount to nearly $3 million annually.
➜ Scuttlebutt expands on the logic of 131 Division 1 football programs splitting from the NCAA into their own governing body, with the most extreme roster highlighting a 48 or 60 team Super Conference (choose a number). That’s unlikely, but will get more attention if a 12-team playoff (worth over $300 million) is approved for the 2026 season.
➜ Gary Barta, Iowa athletic director and former president of the current four-team football playoffs, leads those who would force players out for a year on their second transfer. And many DAs and coaches would prefer a rule barring freshmen from transferring and being immediately eligible. Would either of these meet judicial approval?
Realignment plans? Meanwhile, the Big Ten is deeply divided on the serious matter of football roster and/or whether to have divisions.
The problem is, wherever you put the state of Ohio, it creates an immediate imbalance. Yes, Michigan won last season (first Big Ten title since 2004), Penn State prevailed in 2016, and Michigan State won in 2015. But Ohio State has won five of eight playoff series in the East-West configuration, and the Buckeyes are 61-5 against Eastern opponents and 18-2 against Western.
With new NCAA rules prompting the Pac-12 to drop divisions, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour is officially in favor of ending the East-West roster.
She wants the two top-rated teams paired up for the Big Ten playoffs. And it makes sense that ADs in Michigan and Michigan State would feel the same way, among other things.
Closer to homeHow is Josh Whitman doing?
The Illini AD has recorded a maximum of one realignment move at most, and preferably around the 12-team playoff arrangement that is slated for 2026.
How would he vote?
For now, like everyone else in Western Division, he would almost certainly prefer the status quo. Why would Illinois want to change? Or Purdue? Or Northwestern, which won division titles in 2018 and 2020? Or Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska?
Admit it, all seven programs in the West Division have their best chance of success with the current setup. So how will members in the east get the votes they need if presidents in the west stick together?
Whitman calls it a matter of conscience. Before 2026, the UI administration will have to make a choice between what is good for the conference and what is good for Illinois. But the roster status quo will always be best for Illinois.