NCPA Presses Colleges, Conferences, and Congress for Regional College Athletic Conferences

Conference realignment driven by TV revenue imposes academic, physical and mental health, and familial hardships on college athletes. NCPA calls for sanity...

September 7, 2023

Cut-throat conference realignment driven by universities’ relentless pursuit of football TV revenue imposes academic, physical and mental health, and familial hardships on college athletes.  The NCPA is opposed to conference realignment that forces college athletes to play against conference members who are outside their college’s region and reduces athletes’ conference championship opportunities by creating mega-conferences.

NCPA athlete leaders are advancing the following 2-part proposal that calls for:

1.     Colleges and conferences to voluntarily form or return to regional conferences for non-football teams.

2. Congress to enact a requirement for conference membership, including conference football membership, to be based on region with a limit on the number of colleges within a conference.

Stanford women’s soccer player Nya Harrison stated, “From the point of view of a Stanford athlete, conference realignment would have a negative impact on us overall. Although we still have to travel for away games in the PAC-12, these flights typically aren’t more than 2 hours. It’s a lot more feasible compared to going coast to coast especially when taking into account constant time zone changes and difficult flight and game times, flight connections, and flight delays.  Taking midterms and finals on the road, having to make up 2-3 hour labs, etc., is not sustainable. Conference realignment would result in worsening mental health of college athletes who will have less sleep due to more traveling and more make-up work.

The National Institutes of Health warns “If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.”

Harrison points out the feasibility of part 1 of the proposal, “Stanford athletes and athletes at other colleges can be in a conference that is different than its football conference.  In fact, it already happens here at Stanford with our Olympic sports.”

Former UCLA football player and current San Jose State football player Elisha Guidry stated, “A lot of guys I played with at UCLA had qualms about the conference realignment and felt like their concerns wouldn’t make a difference, so they didn’t express them publicly.  They feel like there just isn’t enough time to do all the things in the week that college athletes have to do with extra travel.  Combining increased travel with the already tight college athlete schedule especially at a school like UCLA is going to be very challenging even if increased resources are provided to alleviate this increased stress.  Big Ten football players are likely going to have to miss class on Thursdays and Fridays when traveling east and west, and most of those Sundays could be taken up recovering after any Saturday night games.”

“Conference realignment further exploits Black revenue athletes whose talents disproportionately generate TV revenue and who already suffer the lowest graduation rates.  These colleges and conferences are cashing in on this racial injustice,” stated Siena Brewster, San Jose State women’s beach volleyball player and leader of the college’s Black Student Athlete Association.

“I’ve spoken with a number of athletes in non-revenue sports here at Stanford who feel that if we’re all required to move to a conference with members outside of our region, we should be given financial compensation,” stated Harrison.

Kaira Brown, who previously testified in support of college athletes’ rights in the US Senate and transferred from Vanderbilt to Georgetown stated, “In my fifth year, I rediscovered how important having family in the stands was to me and it was a huge driver for my transfer from Vanderbilt to Georgetown for graduate school.  It’s unjust for the thousands of college athletes who committed to a regional conference to be transitioned to a cross-country conference without any choice in the matter. Any number of athletes who chose their schools because of their family’s ability to attend their competitions have been robbed of that comfort due to a money-driven decision made by people who claim to have athlete’s best interests at heart.

NCPA Executive Director Ramogi Huma stated, “These colleges receive federal funds and receive billions in tax-free athletics revenue due to their educational mission.  That educational mission cannot be replaced with a mission to chase TV money. Congress has a responsibility to hold colleges accountable in prioritizing their athletes’ education and well-being.”

“Players, parents, alumni, and fans are being told to celebrate new TV money, but these huge conferences leave their team with far less of a chance of winning a conference championship.  It’s the very definition of selling out your athletic program… in the name of salary increases for athletic directors, conference commissioners, and coaches. Those who don’t like this should contact their representatives in Congress and encourage them to ensure conference membership is based on a reasonable regional proximity and reasonable number of colleges.  It can and should be done,” stated Huma.