'Power 5' conferences could set agenda in NCAA

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2014 - 11:53 PM

College’s most influential conferences are pushing for more benefits for athletes.

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Conferences such as the SEC are pushing the NCAA for more autonomy to make their own rules for athlete compensation.

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An NCAA rule that allows colleges to provide student-athletes with unlimited meals and snacks went into effect last week.

By this time next year, Division I athletes might be able to eat more, practice less and receive additional money beyond their scholarship.

College sports are about to change in a profound way.

A landmark proposal expected to pass Thursday could result in a sea change that provides more benefits to student-athletes and more control of governance to power conferences.

The NCAA’s board of directors will vote on a proposal that gives the five major conferences — the so-called “Power 5” — autonomy in making decisions that benefit athletes. The measure is expected to pass, clearing the way for significant reform to the NCAA’s traditional model that is widely viewed as antiquated in the booming business of college athletics.

“If you like what you see in intercollegiate athletics right now,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, “you’re going to be disappointed when the change comes, because it’s coming.”

The vote on autonomy for the Power 5 — the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — represents a historic moment in a debate that has gained momentum in recent years: How should athletes be rewarded as mega-contracts for telecast rights pump hundreds of millions of dollars into college sports?

The NCAA has 346 Division I members of vastly different size and financial means. The Power 5 has sought autonomy to make rules that fit their needs and ability to offer athletes more benefits. The Power 5 threatened to break away from the NCAA and form its own division, but the autonomy proposal gives those 65 schools more flexibility in creating rules.

At the top of their wish list is a full-cost scholarship, which provides athletes money in addition to room, board and tuition. The full-cost scholarship likely would give athletes $2,000 to $5,000 annually for spending money.

Pac-12 presidents released a letter that outlined other possible proposals, including increased medical and insurance benefits, guaranteed scholarships for four years and decreased time demands during the season.

The Power 5 has until Oct. 1 to submit a list of proposals that could be adopted in January.

“I do anticipate that [the list] will capture the autonomy issues that are important to us for assisting our student-athlete in the 21st century in a way that makes sense,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.

Changing landscape

The autonomy vote comes at a time of turmoil for the NCAA. The governing body faces different lawsuits related to compensation for athletes. Northwestern football players are attempting to unionize. The NCAA recently settled a $75 million concussion lawsuit. And Bowlsby, the top Big 12 official, blasted the NCAA’s rules enforcement office for showing a lack of oversight.

“It’s not an understatement to say that cheating pays,” he said.

Now, the NCAA’s structure will be transformed with the Power 5 set to gain autonomy. Bowlsby supports the legislation but worries that it could bring unintended consequences such as the elimination of men’s nonrevenue sports as schools institute full-cost scholarships and other benefits.

“There may be tension among and between sports on campus and institutions that have different resources,” he said.

Bowlsby noted that athletes in football and basketball don’t necessarily work harder than other sports but “they just happen to have the blessing of an adoring public,” he said.

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