NCAA Votes to Give Biggest College Conferences More Autonomy

Thursday, 07 Aug 2014 02:20 PM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) Division 1 Board of Directors has awarded the five largest football sports conferences and their 65 universities greater autonomy to write their own rules, a move that could lead to student-athletes receiving financial compensation, Fox Sports reports.

If the endorsement passes through a 60-day comment period, the conferences could receive the authority to increase the value of scholarships, improve health insurance, and allow players to consult agents.

According to the NCAA, the intent and goal of the restructuring proposal is to "preserve and improve the model of collegiate athletics that has helped millions of student-athletes gain access to higher education and pursue a degree" and to "allow the governance structure to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of student-athletes." 

"We will begin to focus on student-athlete welfare in ways they will feel as early as next year," Ohio University president Michael Drake, a member of the steering committee that developed the proposal, said in a statement.

According to the NCAA the model would "grant [the five conferences] autonomy to make rules on specific matters affecting the interests of student-athletes." 

In practice, the model would permit the five largest conferences – the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 –to unilaterally approve measures those 65 schools consider beneficial for their athletes, which might include awarding financial stipends to cover costs that an athlete might incur that are not covered by their athletic scholarships.

Opponents of the measure argue that giving the wealthiest conferences greater autonomy will further move the focus of college athletics away from academic achievement.

"It will simply raise the stakes, raise the salaries, raise the expenditures, raise the professionalism, and ultimately we will have more barbells and dumbbells," Gerry Gurney, the president of the Drake Group, an educational reform advocacy group, told The New York Times.

In an op-ed published in Inside Higher Ed, Boise State president Bob Kustra echoed Gurney's argument that realignment would spur a financial arms race and further distance the NCAA from its original student-athlete model.

"The NCAA has ranged far afield from the amateur athletics model of days gone by and most of the reforms recently proposed by the NCAA would move it even closer to professional sports. Of course, Division I athletics is already big business, producing millions of dollars in revenue for universities willing and able to make the most expensive investments in their programs -- programs that look less and less like they bear any relationship to the university's mission and role," wrote Kustra in his August 5 column. 

Kustra noted in his op-ed that when Boise State defeated Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl "our entire football budget was less than the salary alone of the Oklahoma football coach."

The issue of the interplay of money and athletes was at the center of an agreement reached in May between the NCAA and EA Sports, a video game manufacturer and the NCAA's licensing arm. The $40 million agreement filed in May in federal court in Oakland, California, involved the use by EA Sports of the likeness of players in their video games.

Those players featured in EA Sports video games could receive up to $4,000, The Los Angeles Times reports. 

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