INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The NCAA’s board of directors took the first step toward shifting power to the five largest football conferences on Thursday, endorsing a 57-page plan that calls for giving 65 of the nation’s biggest schools more autonomy in how to fund scholarships, handle health care and decide other increasingly hot-button issues involving their athletes.
If approved later this year, schools in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC could implement some rules on their own and would get more voting power over legislation that would affect every NCAA member school.
A formal vote on the recommendations is tentatively scheduled for the board’s August meeting, and if it passes then, the transition could begin this fall.
Supporters insist the changes are long overdue.
“We (the big schools) have some issues we’ve got to deal with, but you’ve got to get a way to get the issues into the process,” Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said. “We’ve got enough flashpoints out there that we need to build some credibility with the fan base. We’ve just got work to do and if the governance system is impeding these issues, we’ve got to overhaul the governance system.”
The endorsement came one day before Northwestern football players were scheduled to vote on whether to create what would be the first union for college athletes in U.S. history. NCAA President Mark Emmert this week suggested the changes within the NCAA will address some of the issues raised by those backing the unionization effort.
Burke and Missouri athletic director Mike Alden spent months before reaching a consensus on the plan among the roughly 350 Division I athletic directors.
Even lower-profile conferences believe in the general outline, though they acknowledge some additional details still need to be worked out.
“Do I think it can work? Probably,” Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone said. “Is it perfect? Probably not. But I think it’s going to work better than what we’ve got now.”
If approved, the 65 schools in the five big conferences would be granted autonomy to implement some of the most dramatic changes in college sports - though it would require a two-thirds majority for approval.
While the list of autonomous items has not been finalized, it is likely to include issues such as providing money to students that goes uncovered by traditional scholarships; expanded insurance, including coverage for pro prospects; more resources for academic and career counseling; and funding to help athletes’ families travel to NCAA tournaments. Other components that could be added include creating mandatory break times from sports, a change that would allow athletes to pursue careers away from the playing field and still maintain their eligibility and even transfer rules.
Critics contend the NCAA is only starting to move on these issues now because players are threatening to unionize.
“I only wish the association could move that fast,” Emmert said when asked if this was a response to the union movement. “It’s taken longer than anybody wanted, but we got it done and that’s a good thing.”
What’s still unclear is how well this plan will work.