SBD/January 20, 2014/Colleges

Unofficial Poll Shows College Decision-Makers Want More Autonomy For Power Conferences

Emmert said that NCAA member schools are recognizing the sense in added autonomy
An unofficial poll of delegates at the NCAA Convention in San Diego last week showed that they "support Division I athletics moving toward a model that would grant more autonomy to the five conferences with the most resources -- the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC," according to Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com. The vote showed that 58% of athletic decision-makers in attendance either "supported or strongly supported a change in the way Division I athletics are governed." The vote was "nonbinding and the proposed new governance model is still raw, but it represents the first tangible acknowledgement that change is needed." Wake Forest President and NCAA D-I BOD Chair Nathan Hatch said, "There are different interests -- how to craft hopefully an elegant solution where no one gets everything they want, but it's acceptable as a fair resolution" (ESPN.com, 1/17). NCAA President Mark Emmert said of added autonomy, "A year ago that would have been a very difficult conversation. Now (member schools) are saying, 'Yeah, that makes sense.'" But YAHOO SPORTS' Pat Forde wrote the process "will take time." Hatch: "We hope to have it wrapped up and approved by summer." Forde noted Northeastern AD Peter Roby was "perhaps the most outspoken person in the two days of meetings." If there was "one area of underlying tension at this NCAA convention, it centered on the tug of war between presidents and athletic directors for control of college athletics" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/17). In San Diego, Stefanie Loh wrote the NCAA is "rolling slowly toward" giving the power conferences more autonomy. Kansas State President Kirk Schulz said, "We felt there has to be consensus first, then we can tackle, in a meaningful way, how that autonomy would work." Loh noted the committee that devised the new model "left the meetings with a better understanding of what its membership wanted," which is "more representation for athletic directors in the governance process" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 1/18). 

PAY FOR PLAY? CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd reported leaders at the convention also "received a small, but clear, mandate to go ahead with restructuring the amateurism model." In the "future, it's likely that Division I athletes across the board will be paid some kind of cost of attendance -- the gap between scholarship money and what it would take to live comfortably." That figure more or less is "calculated on the high end at $5,000 per school year -- an average of approximately $555 per month." It "doesn't seem like a lot but for the athlete living hand to mouth, it could be a difference maker." The stipend "most likely will be calculated school-by-school" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/18).

LOUD AND CLEAR: Dodd wrote the leaders at the convention "actually got something done" in the autonomy vote, something that is "going to resonate for years." The poll had "no official impact but it was a referendum on the most prickly off-field issue of the day: How much does the nation's most powerful amateur body want to allow itself to become professionalized?" The power conferences "control the market, the rules and the purse strings." Dodd: "Let them spend away -- within reason." During these "two days you could literally see presidential power slip away" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/17). In Birmingham, Jon Solomon wrote, "What exactly does autonomy mean? That's still undefined." SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said, "I think it's a recognition that the issues we're talking about are understood" (AL.com, 1/18). 

VOICE OF REASON: SI.com's Pete Thamel wrote the "ballyhooed unveiling of the NCAA's potential new governance was greeted with shrugs, eye rolls and confusion." Roby "provided clarity amid the jargon, common sense amid the confusion." He did so by "blasting Louisville's hire of Bobby Petrino ... shocking some of his risk-averse colleagues by, you know, actually saying something completely obvious." Roby "won the MVP for intellect and honesty." He spoke to the "gaps in revenue and ethics that are widening between the so-called 'haves' and 'have nots' in college sports," lines that are "becoming more distinct as the so-called Big Five are getting more autonomy to make their own rules." Roby said, "We keep telling (coaches that) they have to be men of integrity and character. Yet (Petrino) gets another opportunity and is going to make $3.5 million. It's like he didn't pay any price for all the embarrassments he caused to the institutions where he was at, to his family, to the NCAA and to the member schools. We all get painted with that brush." Roby: "Someone has to step up and say, 'Why is that happening?'" Thamel noted one "potentially significant takeaway from this week will be that the rich will continue to get richer, and the financial gap between the Big Five and the field could well turn into a canyon" (SI.com, 1/17).

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN: In Chicago, Rick Telander wrote, "I predict that in 10 years, you will barely recognize NCAA football." There will be the "smaller, less-wealthy schools playing what you still could call 'college football.'" But there will be the "behemoths -- Alabama, USC, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma and pals -- playing something far closer to true professional football" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/18).
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