Change is coming, and SEC commissioner Mike Slive is going to make sure of it.
Slive wrapped up SEC spring meetings on Friday in Destin, Fla., and made a not-so thinly veiled threat to the NCAA in the process.
When asked what would happen if the "power five" conferences—the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC—fail in their attempt to push for legislative autonomy under the NCAA umbrella, Slive essentially said that, if the big five conferences don't get their way, they're taking their ball and going home.
Or, more appropriately, finding a new home according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com.
What if autonomy doesn't pass? SEC commish Mike Slive: "If it doesn't pass, the next move would be to go to a Division IV."— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) May 30, 2014
Autonomy, in this case, is defined as freedom within the legislative process. It would allow the "power five" conferences the ability to implement full cost of attendance stipends, expanded health coverage, transfer reform and other changes associated with player welfare.
How serious is this threat?
It's an empty threat, but a threat nonetheless according to John Infante of AthleticScholarships.net.
A fourth NCAA division is a non-starter since the NCAA has to agree to create another division.— John Infante (@John_Infante) May 30, 2014
If that ultimatum actually has teeth, the choice is autonomy or a new association, not a new division.— John Infante (@John_Infante) May 30, 2014
So what does this all mean?
Essentially, the push for autonomy is a push for progress—which is good for everybody.
The NCAA has dug its heels in for too long regarding player welfare, and thought it could get by selling the myth of amateurism even in an age when escalating media rights changed college athletics into big business. The Ed O'Bannon lawsuit and several others are attempting to change that, and the NCAA is becoming more flexible on defining amateurism more loosely.
But it isn't happening fast enough for the SEC, which according to Florida president Bernie Machen (via: George Schroeder of USA Today), is named in six lawsuits specifically pertaining to full cost of attendance. The "power five" conferences recognize the issues that are facing players created from college athletics becoming big business, and are doing something about it on their own.
With so much attention being paid to legislative structure this year, the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit reaching its most critical hour, Northwestern's push for unionization and the litany of other player-welfare battles currently taking place across the country, the NCAA can't afford even the perception that it's digging its heels in.
That's exactly what will happen if the "power five" doesn't get enough votes for autonomy (roughly 3/8th of Division I, according to John Infante).
The ideal Division IV would be for the "power five" to loosen the definitions of amateurism while still enjoying some of its benefits. The NCAA isn't going to let the "power five" have their cake and eat it too, but knows that the alternative would be worse for its own business in a critical time of its existence.
Division IV may be unlikely, but the threat is out there for very legitimate reasons. The "power five" conferences are basically saying, "if we don't get our way, we're wrecking the whole thing."
The big-business nature of college athletics won't let that happen, which means autonomy will happen one way or another.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.