ACC commissioner Jim Phillips proposes FBS move away from NCAA

Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips speaks during NCAA college basketball ACC media day, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Matt Kelley/AP)

Credit: Matt Kelley

Credit: Matt Kelley

Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips speaks during NCAA college basketball ACC media day, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Matt Kelley/AP)

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – At a time when college athletics is undergoing major transition, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips wants industry leaders to consider another revolutionary idea. In a news conference at the ACC spring meetings Wednesday, Phillips suggested that FBS football be governed separately from the NCAA.

“I’ll just say this,” Phillips said. “I think it’s time to look at alternative models for football.”

To an extent, college football already is run distinctly from other NCAA sports in that its championship and bowl system are not under the NCAA umbrella, whereas the NCAA runs the championships for its other sports.

His suggestion followed a comment made last week made by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith to ESPN that the 10 FBS conferences operate under the direction of the College Football Playoff. Asked if that was what Phillips had in mind, he responded, “I would say we’ve had a lot of conversations, I think, inside the ACC and outside the ACC of what you just described.”

The future of college sports already faces significant uncertainty as changes in athlete compensation and transfer rules have drastically altered the landscape. Further, the growing revenue gap between the SEC and Big Ten and the other power conferences (not to mention the five other FBS conferences) have raised concerns about the game’s competitiveness and viability.

An NCAA committee dedicated to overhauling and modernizing the association’s governance, of which Phillips is part, reportedly is considering several major rules changes, such as overturning the limitations on the number of coaches allowed per team (such as four for basketball and 11 for football) and eliminating scholarship caps on sports that offer partial scholarships (such as baseball).

“If we’re ever going to do something, and I hear about the future of football, and taking care of the sport of football, this is the time to do it,” he said. “This is the time to do it, when you’re reorganizing a structure like the NCAA, what are you doing with the sport of football? Does it need to be managed separately? Do you need to have a governance structure? Those are questions we should be asking ourselves.”

That might entail a different rulebook, leadership and rules enforcement apart from the NCAA. It could mean, for instance, scholarships covering more than what is permitted by the NCAA, or football players forming a union and being able to collectively bargain with that entity.

Phillips’ proposal stands out even more considering his expression of confidence in the future of the NCAA in the same news conference (in the same answer, in fact). Before suggesting that football be operated apart from the NCAA, Phillips said he did not foresee a breakup of the NCAA within Division I. It’s a scenario that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated was inevitable, a separation that would be based on the revenues that different schools or conferences bring in and their approach to athletics more as a business or as part of the school.

“I hear a lot about Power Five (programs) moving away from everyone else, maybe moving away from some of the deregulation and having an opportunity to do some more things from an autonomy standpoint,” he said. “But I don’t see that happening right now or over the next five, 10 years. I just don’t.”

That said, Phillips was adamant that the football idea needs exploration. He said conversations have taken place with the commissioners of the other nine FBS conferences.

“But I think we need to have more of those conversations as we look at the next six, eight, 10, 12 months about the sport of football,” he said.