INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA on Thursday approved a new governance structure for Division I that will give the five power conferences and their 65 members a level of legislative autonomy never seen before in the history of the organization.
The 16-2 vote by the Division I Board of Directors, which took place at NCAA headquarters, is subject to a 60-day veto period before the new governance structure is official. It is not expected enough schools will submit an override to put the legislation in jeopardy. The dissenting votes came from Ivy League rep and Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon and Delaware President Patrick Harker, the representative of the Colonial Athletic Conference.
“In the end, everyone recognized this was something that was very good for Division I,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “It allows (all Division I) institutions to continue to have access to championships, to continue to share resources in the same way they always have and provides the five higher-resourced conferences with some greater latitude in areas they were concerned with. This was a wonderful development, and I’m very pleased.
“The Board made one significant change to the proposal introduced last month: For legislation to be considered, only one of the five conferences is required to submit it, not three. That aligns with the current Division I legislative process.
The new governing structure clears the way for colleges to provide an unprecedented level of benefits for their athletes The next step will be for the five power conferences to form an agenda that can be voted on at the NCAA Convention next January. The SEC, ACC, Big Ten Big 12 and Pac-12 will have until Oct. 1 to submit the first round of autonomy legislation.
South Carolina president Harris Pastides said he expected the first agenda item will be providing the so-called “full cost of attendance,” increasing the value of a scholarship at a time when the NCAA is under significant legal and public scrutiny over college athletes’ rights.
Discussions about how to calculate the full cost of attendance are still in the relatively early stages, however, and there could be significant disagreements among the five conferences about which components should be included.
“That’s not going to be an easy issue, but I’m confident that’s the first thing we’ll undertake,” Pastides said.
Wright State president David Hopkins said that even though his school competes in the Horizon League, which isn’t one of the five high-resources conferences, he did not believe it would be a death knell to its ability to compete.
“It was very clear we were defining autonomy in very careful ways, and we knew for our sister conferences had challenges and needs that were not apparent in what we do,” Hopkins said. “We’ve learned how to live within our means and still provide an excellent experience and be part of the access to national championships.”
Other Division I conferences will have the opportunity to adopt the same legislation passed by the Power Five, and many will choose to follow as much as their budgets allow on issues like cost of attendance, improved long-term health care and guaranteed four-year scholarships.
“Today’s vote by the NCAA Board of Directors will have a significant impact on the future of intercollegiate athletics and more than likely will result in an increase in the cost of operating the athletic programs of the universities of the Sun Belt Conference,” commissioner Karl Benson said. “While there will be challenges ahead, our universities are committed to the continued academic success of our student-athletes along with providing the necessary benefits to protect their overall health and welfare.
“The proposal adoption also establishes a new Division I Council that will include two active college athletes, two faculty-athletic representatives and four conference commissioners in addition to 32 other conference reps. The Council will be responsible for Division I operations and each April will be able to adopt new rules.
Essentially, the new governance model shifts much of the day-to-day operation of Division I from the presidential level to the practitioners, with significant input from athletics directors.
“The board will focus on strategic issues, and it’s refreshing,” said UCLA president Gene Block, who represented the Pac-12. “You have a feeling it’s the right level for the board to focus on. We’re optimizing our roles. There may be modifications as we go on if things don’t work well, fine-tuning, but I think we’re starting with a good robust organization.
“Though several board members said there was robust debate and friction throughout the process on some issues – particularly on issues of voting power and representation – there was ultimately compromise.
“It took a long time, but it was probably as deliberative a process as I’ve ever participated in,” Pastides said. “It was honest. Nobody got everything they wanted. That’s conventionally thought of as a good outcome.
“One of the big issues that evolved over the course of the debate was on voting thresholds required for autonomous legislation to pass. Initially, the eight-member steering committee proposed a two-thirds super-majority for autonomous legislation. In July, following public criticism from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive, that threshold was lowered to 60 percent, or 48 out of the 80 votes (one for each of the 65 schools and three athlete representatives for each of the five conferences).
Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said there was never any real threat during the process of the power conferences leaving the NCAA if they didn’t get what they wanted.
“Let’s say you take your ball and go somewhere else, you still have to have an NCAA-like structure to provide the infrastructure for championships, compliance and all those things,” Schulz said. “When people talk about we’re going to do our own thing, you’d wind up rebuilding almost exactly what you left. Most of the presidents I talk so said, you know, that may sound good to the media, but it’s so impractical that we need to find a way to make this work.
“Long-term, though, there will be questions about whether an NCAA structure can work with 65 schools in one category and more than 280 in another while living under the same so-called “big tent” and also sharing hundreds of millions in revenue each year generated by the Division I men’s basketball tournament.
Block said that model still has “widespread support” among presidents of power conference schools.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch said. “I guess I have some sense of the common good. It’s the tradition that has grown up around the basketball tournament, which is more democratic, and we pledge to sustain those revenue models and distributions.”