Let’s take this one idea at at time. First, the idea of yet another football division. Now, granted, football is the sport that generally sees the bigger schools have far and away the biggest advantages. You don’t get the same sort of Cinderella stories in football as you do in basketball. It seems almost every March somebody like a Florida Gulf Coast University (total enrollment 12,683) makes a run, and schools like Duke (total enrollment 14,591) and Butler (total enrollment 4,667) can become powers. In football? The biggest underdog over the decade would have to be Boise State (total enrollment 22,678), which is almost double of FGCU. My favored big school, Purdue, as a total enrollment of 39,256. Some other big names: Ohio State (56,867), Alabama (33,602), LSU (30,000), Texas (51,145), Oklahoma (30,303), USC (38,010). So, yeah, size matters in football. It makes sense that there should be more divisions there than in basketball or other sports.
Right now, of course, things are split up into four divisions. There’s the FBS, your “big boy” football spoken about by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. There’s the FCS, which is generally your smaller Division I schools, yet the ones that actually play for an NCAA title and get their banner hung in Indianapolis. Then there’s Division II, which can offer athletic scholarships, but the limits are much more strict than Division I. And then there’s Division III, where Wabash hangs out, and are not allowed any athletic scholarships.* This setup, I think, has generally worked well, but there have been a few challenges. There has been a proposed Division IV, which would (predictably) split Division III further, but that idea has sputtered out without much support. An idea that is gaining traction anew (and has had more support in the past) is further splitting Division I football, or at least tightening who is in FBS.
*While there are certainly some perks to being an athlete at these schools (such as easier admittance), these schools do generally take the no extra scholarships for being an athlete seriously. While I’m sure there are some improprieties here and there, I think generally you would find that those athletes with the scholarships at this level deserve them. That was my experience with athletes, anyway.
I don’t know if I like the idea of further splitting Division I, but I do think there needs to be a good hard look at who is actually competing in Division I. It seems that so many schools want so badly to make the jump to the top division because they think it will bring in so many additional dollars by way of athletics. These schools don’t seem to take into consideration that to bring in that additional money will take quite a bit of additional money spent. And that’s just to compete at that level, not to mention spending the money to advertise your school to the community and generate publicity and interest in your school at that level. Because these schools have totally different concerns than “true” D1 schools, it clogs the legislation process of the NCAA and, well, gets us to the state it is today, with an overly complex and seemingly contradictory rulebook with seemingly different ideas from paragraph to paragraph about just how amateur it’s athletes are.
I don’t think athletes needs additional money outside their scholarships. I think that’s just ludicrous. You’re getting at least a partially free education, as well as access to the best facilities and academic help your chosen university can offer. Also, if you care about your school, you’re helping bring in millions of dollars into the school that lets it support other athletes in sports that don’t draw in the same sort of revenue as football and basketball. That ought to be worth something to you. And, you know, if that’s not enough, I don’t believe there’s anything that prevents players from getting jobs in the offseason, as long as they don’t get that job directly from being an athlete (ie being pitchmen for products). But I do think a lot of the rules that get in the way of these schools in “power conferences” are silly. A good example would be the Ohio St. guys that got in trouble for selling their awards for beating Michigan. Yes, I can certainly see where that could be abused, but I have a hard time believing that would really be that big an issue. It certainly wouldn’t be an issue at schools with less boosters. Moving some of those schools down to Division II or making a bigger split in Division I would seem to take care of silly rules like that.
It might be a little bit cynical of me, but it’s one of those things were if everybody is cheating, then nobody is cheating. Let the huge schools play by their own rules afforded to them by their size. Then you don’t have to worry about how, say, Tulsa* can’t seem to keep up. It’s not a bad thing to play in a division other than the top one. To the players and students of those smaller schools, believe me, it means every bit as much.
*I picked them by virtue of being the smallest FBS school I can find. I’m sure you can find other examples.