What Is The Power 5?

When it comes to college sports, a term that is frequently tossed around is “Power 5.” You may have heard this term being used in discussions about NCAA football or other collegiate athletics. But what exactly does it mean?

Today, on The Wire, we’ll delve into the concept of the Power 5 and explore its significance in the realm of college sports. 

Power 5 Defined

The Power 5 refers to the five athletic conferences that are considered the most prominent and influential in NCAA Division I college football. These conferences are the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference (Big Ten), Big 12 Conference (Big 12), Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12), and Southeastern Conference (SEC). 

They represent the top-tier institutions in college football and boast some of the most storied programs in the sport. Typically, scholarship opportunities at these institutions are the most coveted by recruits. 

The Background of Power 5 Conferences

The formation of the Power 5 conferences can be traced back to the early 20th century when colleges and universities began organizing themselves into regional athletic conferences. Over time, and constant realignment, these conferences gained prominence and evolved into the Power 5 we know today. Their influence extends beyond football, impacting other sports as well.

The landscape of college athletics has witnessed numerous instances of conference realignment, and the Power 5 conferences have not been immune to these changes. Teams switching conferences, the creation of new conferences, and the dissolution of others have all contributed to the ever-evolving Power 5 landscape.

One of the defining characteristics of the Power 5 conferences is their consistent dominance in college football. Year after year, teams from these conferences are perennial contenders for national championships and bowl game berths. Their impressive track records, combined with substantial resources and strong fan bases, contribute to their reputation as the elite of college football.

The Impact of Power 5 Dominance

The Power 5 conferences wield considerable financial power in college athletics. They generate significant revenue through lucrative television contracts, sponsorship deals, and ticket sales. 

The power of television networks cannot be overstated, as they play a pivotal role in the finances of major conferences, further widening the gap between the Power 5 and other conferences. These networks, with their extensive reach and resources, offer substantial sums of money to secure exclusive broadcasting rights for college sports – and conferences specifically.

Wide View of a Power 5 College Football Stadium with ESPN College Football Banner

Photo by Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire

The influx of money from these TV deals has revolutionized the collegiate sports landscape, fueling the growth and prosperity of the Power 5 conferences. The revenue generated from media rights agreements allows these conferences to invest heavily in state-of-the-art facilities, recruit top-tier coaches and athletes, and provide enhanced resources for their member institutions.

Moreover, the financial windfall from TV deals enables conferences to secure lucrative bowl game tie-ins, expand their conference networks, and invest in marketing and branding initiatives. The heightened exposure and financial support further solidify the position of the Power 5 conferences as the dominant forces in collegiate athletics, perpetuating the cycle of success and widening the gap between the Power 5 and the rest of the conferences.

And while the Power 5 is primarily associated with athletic success, many member institutions also boast exceptional academic programs. These universities often have a rich history, robust alumni networks, and notable research contributions. Their athletic success often goes hand in hand with their academic reputation, enhancing their overall prestige.

Because of the all-encompassing dominance, and everything that comes with it, Power 5 conferences also attract top-tier high school athletes. The exposure, resources, and opportunities offered by these conferences make them desirable destinations for young athletes looking to showcase their skills and increase their chances of being scouted by professional teams. As a result, competition for recruitment spots within the Power 5 is fierce.

While the Power 5 conferences clearly dominate the college sports landscape, their influence extends beyond their own boundaries. Non-Power 5 schools and conferences face challenges in terms of resources, exposure, and access to major postseason events. The Power 5’s dominance can create disparities in funding, facilities, and TV exposure, making it harder for non-Power 5 institutions to compete at the same level.

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12’s commissioner from 2012-2022, interviewed with ESPN to discuss the dominance of the Power 5 conferences. 

“I think the only message is that our student-athletes and our programs are largely the face of what America knows as college athletics,” Bowlsby told ESPN. “We win more than 90 percent of the NCAA championships every year.”


The Power 5 conferences play a pivotal and influential role in shaping the landscape of college sports, particularly in the realm of football. Their athletic dominance, financial prowess, academic prestige, and impact on recruiting make them central figures in the NCAA. These conferences are not only powerhouses on the field but also influential entities that shape the direction of college athletics. 

Understanding the concept of the Power 5 provides valuable insight into the hierarchy, dynamics, and aspirations of college sports programs. It underscores the significance of these conferences as drivers of innovation, competitiveness, and national attention. From their storied rivalries and traditions to their impact on postseason events and the broader college sports ecosystem, the Power 5 conferences hold a distinct and formidable position within the NCAA landscape. 

Their continued success and influence ensure that they will remain at the forefront of college sports discussions and shape the future of the game.

      (Top Photo: G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins)

2 comments to What Is The Power 5?

  1. Marty Buhr
    January 10, 2024

    I still think the Coaching staff for Michigan was singled out solely to help the weaker teams. The Fans are what makes the system work.

    • Rich G
      January 13, 2024

      Well….they cheated, so there’s that…..


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