NCAA Board Votes to Allow Autonomy for Biggest Conferences


The NCAA’s inner circle has shrunk down even more today, as the Division I Board of Directors approved legislative autonomy for the five so-called “power conferences” at a vote at NCAA headquarters. The 16-2 vote will allow the Southeastern Conference, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and Atlantic Coast Conference to govern their combined 65 universities in the way of individual athletes and competition rules. The lone dissenters were representatives from Dartmouth and the University of Delaware.

The credo from on high at the NCAA has been that this decision, through allowing the richer conference schools to self-impose certain rules, will better benefit the student-athletes in a number of ways, including the possibility of future engagement with agents, helping pay insurance policies taken out against injuries, and better medical coverage.

“The new governance model represents a compromise on all sides that will better serve our members and, most importantly, our student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said, in a statement. “These changes will help all our schools better support the young people who come to college to play sports while earning a degree.”

Indeed, while this decision signifies a major cultural shift for the NCAA, certain major bylaws will remain unaffected, such as transfer eligibility and scholarship limits.

There is a 60-day veto period in place, during which time three outcomes can occur: If less than 75 universities object, the rule will pass pending a vote from all DI universities in which a 5/8 majority is needed to overturn; if 75-124 disapprove, the committee will re-examine; and if 125 universities oppose the new rule, it will be suspended while the committee decides how to proceed.

What does this mean for UT Athletics? As a member of the Big 12 Conference, student-athletes at Texas—should the decision pass—can potentially pursue non-athletic careers concurrent to enrollment, receive pre-enrollment expenses during recruiting trips, and receive “full cost of attendance” and lifetime scholarships.

Texas athletic director Steve Patterson predicted the impending decision in an interview last month, stating, “I think the big five conferences have been in favor of more autonomy to be able to make their own rules to provide the best level of service for their student-athletes that they can afford. It appears, at once optimistic, that we may be headed to a negotiated system that would grant some level of autonomy for the larger schools to address issues such as full cost of attendance.”

Patterson has previously come out in opposition to directly paying student athletes, noting that student-athlete compensation would cause harm to non- and low-revenue producing sports, in particular those that are enabled by Title IX.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch has some of the same concerns, plus some worry about what this will do to the have-nots in intercollegiate athletics, and thinks that the NCAA Board’s decision may warrant Congressional review.

“The NCAA should be responsible for promoting fair competition among its participating institutions and their student athletes,” Hatch said, in a statement. “I am concerned that today’s actions 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. I also worry about how this decision will affect a school’s Title IX requirements and whether this consolidation of power will restrict competition and warrant antitrust scrutiny.

If the decision sticks, it would mean a monumental shift in policy for Texas, its conference opponents, and potentially all of Division I.

Image via Twitter (@NCAA)


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