The NCAA's Division II Peach Belt conference is teaming up with Riot Games to compete in the College League of Legends 2018 season.
The NCAA: The National Collegiate Athletic Association is the major governing body for collegiate sports. It regulates and supports athletic departments and tournaments.
The NCAA also manages media rights for college sports. In 2013, they reported media rights as $705 million (81%) of their $871.6 revenue. Still, the NCAA qualifies as a nonprofit, stating that "All but 4 percent of NCAA revenue is either returned directly to member conferences and institutions or used to support championships and programs that benefit student-athletes."
Division II: The NCAA schools are split up into three divisions, with the most competitive and high budget schools participating in Division I, and the smaller athletic departments in Division III.
The Peach Belt: This is an athletic conference (competitive league) within Div II. It’s headquartered in Georgia (hence the peach name), and has 12 member schools across Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
The Peach Belt tested League of Legends in its lineup this past fall, but now it will the first NCAA conference to be part of Riot’s official College league. The Peach Belt operates under the NCAA for its other sports, while its League of Legends activity will be independent and coordinated with Riot.
How this works with College League of Legends: This is the collegiate league that Riot runs -- it's made up of regional conferences that feed into the Play-Ins and Championship. The PBC will hold a regular season starting this month, and its finalists will move on to the College Championship Play-In.
Update: RiotSherman has provided additional details on Riot's conference partnership:
"The Peach Belt's membership of the NCAA does not impact the way that they run their League of Legends season and they will share nearly identical rules and regulations as the rest of college League of Legends. This is similar in structure to the way we worked with the Big Ten Network last year, but instead of working with schools through a TV Network, we're working with the college conference directly in this case."
The big picture surrounds NCAA's potential future in esports. In some light, it’s a big deal to see an NCAA conference take up more interest in League, and especially now that Riot is showing more interest in return.
The current change means we'll see PBC schools investing in esports programs. Those schools can also adopt journalism and analyst training around those sports. League may receive some strong organization and resources (training facilities, scholarships).
Long-term, the Peach Belt's first steps here could serve as a proving grounds for organized collegiate esports, and could usher more interest from the NCAA in organizing esports themselves.
Riot’s competitive college program lead, Michael Sherman, puts it this way in the announcement: “This gives players the same competitive experience as athletes in 15 other competitions - a big step toward making League of Legends a sport that lasts for generations.”
The NCAA has seen a lot of side eye in recent years. In Sept. 2017, four NCAA assistant coaches and multiple Adidas employees were charged by the FBI for fraud and bribery. Then there’s the debate on the NCAA amateurism rules — which require college players not be paid for their play. Meanwhile, the NCAA brought in almost $1 billion in revenue in 2014. The combination of no pay and lots of money brings with it a lot of rough financial and labor issues.
There’s also confusion as to how the system would handle pro players that retire, go back to college, and try to compete there. Then there's arguments that players won’t bother competing in collegiate leagues if they can’t be paid, when they could be earning on an LCS or Academy team at the same age.
These are all far future concerns, but while the NCAA isn't organizing League of Legends through its Peach Belt Conference, people aren’t typically excited to see any crossover between the association and esports.
Update: Additional clarification on the partnership between Riot and the Peach Belt Conference.
Disclosure: Riot Games, the publisher of League of Legends, is a non-controlling interest investor in Blitz Esports.