The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) voted Thursday to significantly expand the autonomy of its most powerful conferences, a move that could pave the way for players to be paid directly for the first time.
Under a series of rules passed 16-2 by the NCAA’s Division 1 board of directors, the so-called Big Five conferences (the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, and Big 12) along with Notre Dame will be able to expand scholarships to include living stipends, and will also have the power to dispense with harsh restrictions on recruiting and other rules that hold back major powers in comparison to programs less flush with cash.
If the rules are implemented, the Big Five will be able to consider allowing member schools to grant more generous scholarships that include not only tuition but also living stipends, which could be several thousand dollars if not more. Proponents also say the schools could offer more generous medical coverage and other benefits.
Such expanded options will likely increase the advantages Big Five schools have over their competition by allowing them to offer superior scholarship packages to potential recruits. Non-Big Five schools are allowed to offer the same benefits, but their generally lesser resources mean that won’t be an option for many.
The rules will also break down certain rigid restrictions that currently restrict college sports’ interaction with both the high school and professional levels. For instance, conferences could dispense with regulations that sharply limit how much contact recruiters can have with high school players, and they could also allow players to sign with agents for the sake of negotiating endorsement deals prior to going pro.
The changes have been pushed for primarily by the strongest football powers, such as the University of Alabama and Ohio State. However, even lesser members of the Big Five are backing the changes. In a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation, University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill said the new rules would improve the lives of athletes.
“The main purpose of the legislation is to allow us to provide more resources for our student-athletes. It’s always been our goal to provide the best experience possible for our student-athletes and this is one more way to help us achieve our goal,” Hill said.
Utah itself is a recent addition to the Power 5. Until 2011, the school was a member of the Mountain West Conference, one of the mid-major conferences that could be left behind by the new order.
The vote was prompted in part by increasing discontent from the student athletes who keep the entire NCAA system moving. At Northwestern University, football players have sought the right to unionize, while complaints have become louder that regular athletic scholarships aren’t enough for players from poor backgrounds who enough money for even basic essentials like food.
In addition, however, the NCAA’s decision was also motivated in party by a desire to keep the entire organization from fragmenting apart. Speculation has been rife that Big Five programs might seek to break away from the NCAA and create an entirely new athletic association that is subject to fewer restrictions. Thursday’s rules should, if implemented, suppress that desire for some time.
The rules’ enactment is not a sure thing, however. If 75 members outside the Big Five protest, the rules will have to be put to a vote of member schools, and if at least 125 of Division 1′s 351 members remain in opposition, the rules will be blocked. Only 65 schools are members of the Big Five, so the measure will require support from a majority of non-elite schools as well.
Some mid-major schools are already expressing deep discontent with the NCAA’s action. Bob Kustra, president at mid-major Boise State University, whose football team has become famous for defeating elite competition, has been sharply critical of efforts to empower the top conferences. Kustra told TheDCNF that the new rules were a harbinger of darker times to come for college athletics.
“For those who already think that Division I athletics has devolved into a business that too often dictates university priorities rather than the other way around, it’s about to get worse,” Kustra said. “These elite programs will bear less and less resemblance to amateur athletics and the mission and role of a university. No one should think it will stop here.”