The NCAA Division I board of directors is expected to vote Thursday to approve more autonomy and policy-making authority for the nation’s five most high-profile conferences.
In the new NCAA governance structure, the so-called “Power 5” — the ACC, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 — could unilaterally approve measures those 65 schools consider beneficial for their athletes, such as financial stipends to cover the full cost of college attendance beyond athletic scholarships.
“Above all, it was critical for the ACC and the other Power 5 conferences to gain some autonomy so we can share with student-athletes the benefits of some of the resources they are helping generate,” N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson said Wednesday. “This isn’t full autonomy from the NCAA. We don’t want to make up all of our rules, but this provides a level of autonomy that these conferences would benefit from.”
Critics say such a change will further widen the gap between the NCAA “haves” and “have-nots.” It could adversely affect such UNC system schools as East Carolina and Appalachian State, Division I members that won’t have a spot at the Power 5 table but could feel compelled to financially match the benefits the Power 5 schools offer to their athletes to remain competitive.
The NCAA Division I board of directors, which will vote during its meeting in Indianapolis, is chaired by Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch, who represents the ACC. Hatch also headed up the steering committee that crafted the Power 5 autonomy proposal.
The vote comes at a critical time for the NCAA, which is faced with a problematic legal challenge — the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit over the use of athletes’ names and likenesses without compensation — and the move to unionize college athletes at Northwestern. College sports generate billions of dollars, creating added pressure on schools to spend more to aid their athletes and enhance their academic experience.
“Given all that’s happening and the outcry to do more for student-athletes, I think it’s recognition of the reality of the situation,” Hatch said Wednesday. “It does help the big conferences to better support student-athletes. It will present challenges because there are more expenses but I think it’s the right thing to do.”
If the autonomy measure passes Thursday, there is a 60-day override period. If 75 schools outside the Power 5 oppose the measure, it would be reconsidered by the board.
Noting the process involved “hundreds of meetings,” Hatch said he was confident the proposal would pass and not be overridden.
“It’s a fait accompli,” East Carolina athletic director Jeff Compher said Wednesday. “As a part of the American (Athletic) Conference, we have to adjust to it.”
Compher noted that AAC member Connecticut claimed NCAA championships in men’s and women’s basketball last season, and that Central Florida, the league’s football champion in 2013, beat Baylor of the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl.
“I think we are a power conference and we have proven that,” Compher said. “We need to step up and act like the ‘Autonomy 5’ or ‘Power 5’ and make sure we are able to keep the same kinds of policies and reform measures. As a school and as a conference, we don’t want to take a back seat to anyone.”
N.C. State football coach Dave Doeren spent two years as head coach at Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference before coming to NCSU. Doeren said Wednesday there’s a chance such lower-profile schools could “really get left out.”
“When we pass our rules, are they going to pass the same ones to stay with us? Or are they going to say, ‘We can’t afford to do that,’ and fall back?” Doeren said.
Under the NCAA’s current governance, the Power 5 represent 65 votes among 351. The new format would have an 80-member voting structure for the Power 5 — 65 representatives from the schools, plus three athletes from each of the five conferences — to vote on policy measures that affect those five conferences.
If approved Thursday, the new structure would likely go into effect in 2015.
Surely to be revisited is a cost-of-attendance stipend. A $2,000 stipend was approved by the Division I board in 2011 but later rescinded.
“It’s not an astronomical figure but it will definitely help and alleviate some of the financial stresses some of our players experience,” NCSU’s Woodson said. “We’re not talking about paying them; very few presidents are in favor of flat-out paying athletes.”
Hatch said terms of full cost of attendance still needed to be worked out. He estimated it would cost Wake Forest $500,000 annually to cover the additional expenses, saying, “It’s a very complicated issue because costs vary by institution, even within the ACC.”
Hatch said another issue to be determined would be if full-cost-of-attendance will be “need-based or across the board.”
ACC commissioner John Swofford recently said Power 5 members, if given more autonomy, would consider four-year scholarships. Power 5 schools also could fund additional medical coverage for athletes and the ability to obtain disability insurance, according to The New York Times.
The Power 5 conferences will not be allowed to offer more scholarships than other Division I conferences. There’s concern the cost of increasing benefits for football and basketball among the Power 5 schools, factoring in Title IX requirements, might force some Power 5 schools to drop or curtail non-revenue sports such as swimming, gymnastics or volleyball.
“It will be a challenge but I don’t see it impacting the number of teams we support,” Woodson said.
In recent years, there has been speculation the Power 5 schools might break away from the NCAA if not allowed to address their own concerns and policies.
“The looming danger is if nothing like this happened, at some point, the Big 5 would say, ‘Let’s do our own thing.’ ” Hatch said. “That’s why I think this compromise, with some latitude for the Big 5, is the most positive way to go.”