NCAA ready to open debate on governance changes

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The NCAA is getting strategic.

It wants the nation’s most powerful conferences to have more autonomy on some of college sports’ thorniest issues. It wants athletic directors to have a stronger voice in decision-making. It wants the board of directors to focus on big-ticket items. And it wants everybody currently in Division I engaged in the debate, which begins Thursday at the NCAA’s annual convention.

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“I think the board would like to charge others with doing more of the tactical and complicated details and the board should function more like a board should,” Chairman Nathan Hatch told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “There are huge issues that face the NCAA - what’s the nature of amateurism, what’s the nature of injuries, what do you do when there’s a strong critique that it’s all about the money, what do you do to preserve academic integrity? That’s what the board should be dealing with.”

Usually, the board gets bogged down in legislative issues to combat the hot topics of the day.

Now, after months of discussing how to overhaul the NCAA’s governance structure, the board is ready to put a broad proposal on the table.

The key is giving high-resource conferences and schools an opportunity to make some decisions on their own - such as implementing an athlete stipend toward the full cost of attendance, money that goes beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees.

In October 2011, the NCAA approved a measure allowing conferences to award athletes up to $2,000 more per year. Most of the big conferences quickly adopted the measure. But two months later, there was so much opposition from other Division I schools that the rule was put on hold.

Since then, NCAA President Mark Emmert has supported bringing back the stipend, though no formal proposal has been made. Emmert is scheduled to give his annual state of the association speech Thursday evening.

Last summer, commissioners of each of the so-called power conferences used their media days to lobby for changes to the way the NCAA does business. Hatch, the president at Wake Forest, an Atlantic Coast Conference school, and others heard the concerns and insist the debate is not just about giving money to players. They want schools to provide additional resources that will help student-athletes with everything from academics to health.

It’s a tricky proposition. For decades, all Division I schools have played by the same set of rules.

Now, Hatch and others are hoping lower-resource schools, which often don’t compete for the same recruits as the bigger schools anyway, are willing to stay in a division even if there are separate financial structures.

Some believe it could lead to a split. Hatch disagrees.

“The most important thing is that there’s a broad consensus that Division I should stay as a group and not divide, and despite the wide differences, we are aligned about what college sports should be and our responsibility to educate student-athletes and prepare them for successful lives,” Hatch said.

Board members hope to have a formal proposal ready for the board’s spring meeting, in April. That could set the stage for a final vote at the board’s summer meeting.

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