The NCAA Board of Directors voted 16-2 Thursday to give the five wealthiest football conferences the ability to make some of their own rules and pass legislation without the approval of the other Division I schools. Some questions and answers:
Q: Will athletes get paid?
A: None of the college presidents who spoke Thursday at NCAA headquarters were advocating the popular pay-for-play proposal. Neither did NCAA President Mark Emmert. Instead, leaders from the power conference schools endorsed some form of a stipend to cover the full cost of attendance. A plan for a $2,000 annual athlete stipend — money that expands scholarship limits to cover living expenses beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees — was passed by the board in October 2011 but overridden two months later after smaller schools complained about the financial impact. It still might be a complicated area to address. Kansas State President Kirk Schulz noted, as an example, that meeting the full cost of attendance at his school might be $2,000 but the equivalent at UCLA might be $3,500. What is clear is that when the schools send in their wish list in October, full cost of attendance will be No. 1 when it comes to autonomy for the power conferences. Board Chairman Nathan Hatch, the president of Wake Forest, said there could be a proposal by January.
Q: What other areas will the five conferences make a priority?
A: Athlete welfare. South Carolina President Harris Pastides advocated for a reduction in practice time so students could focus more on academics. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block argued that schools should be allowed to better counsel a player about his or her professional prospects and be more accommodating to those who turn pro and later return to school. Improved health care coverage is another issue that could be in the works, too. Pastides acknowledged his school has hired a former football player to help them “figure out where to go now” and what “student-athlete well-being really means.”
Q: How will this work?
A: The 65 schools in Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference will form their own proposals and anything that gains a majority vote in three of the conferences could be sent to the board of directors. If 12 of the 20 presidents on the board agree, school leaders and commissioners will try to agree on a proposal. Each school would then get one vote and three athletes from each conference would create a voting bloc of 80. It would require 48 votes and a simple majority from three of the leagues or a 41 votes and a simple majority of four of the conferences to pass.
Q: Will other conferences try to do what the Big Five want to do?
A: Those details are still being worked out, but the leaders of the other five conferences that play at the highest level of college football, the Bowl Subdivision, have all said their members are prepared to do their best to provide the same additional benefits to athletes. Some schools, such as those in the American Athletic Conference or Mountain West, are probably better situated to spend more on athletes than others, such as those in the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference. But they’ll try.
“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 in a statement.
Q: Does everyone agree this is the right move?
A: No, critics contend it will create a wider gap between the haves and have-nots in college sports and some wonder whether it will impact Olympic sports and Title IX requirements. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah after the vote released a statement that said in part: “The NCAA should be responsible for promoting fair competition among its participating institutions and their student athletes. I am concerned that today’s action could create an uneven playing field that may prevent some institutions from being able to compete fairly with other schools that have superior resources to pay for student athletes.”
Q: Will fans notice a difference?
A: Not really. Maybe in the long-term some Bowl Subdivision schools will decide it’s too expensive to compete at that level and drop down to the Championship Subdivision. And it could be a step toward full separation between the Big Five and the rest of college athletics, but there is nothing to suggest that is imminent.
“I don’t think six months from now you’re going to see any difference going to a basketball game, but I think for our student-athletes, we can provide access to things that will help them with academics and help them make better decisions,” Kansas State coach Kirk Schulz said. “I don’t think those things will be apparent to the average fan, but it will be apparent to the presidents, chancellors and faculty at our schools.”