Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has been one of the leading voices in college athletics in recent years, and on Saturday, he dropped quite the prediction about the future.
Essentially, Swarbrick believes in around 15 years, the NCAA will look completely different, as Division I athletics will likely split, per Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated. Athletic departments could basically begin to operate separately from the universities.
Swarbrick, who is a member of the College Football Playoff Management Committee along with 10 other conference commissioners, sees schools falling into two camps: the current model which couples athletics with the educational pieces of a university, and athletic programs tied to the school only in name, doing away with the “student” piece of “student-athlete.”
“There’s always been sort of a spectrum—and I want to stress that everything along the spectrum is valid; it’s not a criticism,” Swarbrick told Forde in an interview. “On one end of the spectrum, you license the school name and run an independent business that’s engaged in sports. The other end of the spectrum, you’re integrated into the university in terms of decision making and requirements, and some follow that.”
The timeline for such a split, per Swarbrick, is the mid-2030s, and schools would be able to determine where they fall on the issue. The athletic director, who has been in South Bend since 2008, did not share any examples of school he believes might fall into the latter category.
When it comes to Notre Dame, the school’s athletic programs would still be tied to the educational aspect the university provides, similar to the current structure. The opinion is unsurprising given Notre Dame’s prioritization of academics, even when it comes to the athletes they admit to the school.
Other schools may think differently. In his story, Forde used Oregon as an example (but stressed Swarbrick did not provide it); they could create Oregon Ducks Athletics, Inc., a company which would only be in the sports business.
“Absent a national standard, which I don’t see coming, I think it’s inevitable,” Swarbrick said.
On the topic of a national standard, Swarbrick is hesitant about the NCAA’s ability to handle many things, including issues of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL).
“No. I hate to be so pessimistic, but it’s been a lot of years of not seeing them have any,” Swarbrick said regrading the NCAA having a shot at controlling NIL. “I can see a lot of that (rules compliance and enforcement) being transferred to the conferences.
“We’re not getting [reform leadership] from the NCAA.”
Of course, Notre Dame operates outside of a conference in football, but is a member of the ACC in all other sports except hockey (Big Ten). How they handle the football aspect of this remains to be determined, but you can bet Swarbrick will be at the forefront of the conversation.