The Atlantic Coast Conference and the nation’s four other biggest athletic conferences moved closer to gaining the power to approve measures such as financial stipends for athletes after a vote by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors on Thursday.
The board, meeting in Indianapolis, voted 16-2 for a new governance model for the “Power 5” conferences that is the first step in a new era of college athletics. The plan would provide the ACC, Southeastern Conference, Big 12, Big Ten and Pacific-12 more autonomy in how they run their athletic programs.
“Today’s vote marks a significant step into a brighter future for Division I athletics,” NCAA.com quoted Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch, the board chair, as saying.
“We hope this decision not only will allow us to focus more intently on the well-being of our student-athletes but also preserve the tradition of Division I as a diverse and inclusive group of schools competing together on college athletics’ biggest stage.”
The amateur model has been recently challenged by a high-profile lawsuit from former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and the potential unionization of college athletes in a labor-board suit won by athletes at Northwestern.
Only the governance model was voted on Thursday, but the Power 5 plans to move quickly on setting up new benefits for scholarship athletes.
Among the main changes expected to come about with the new model is paying scholarship athletes the “full cost of attendance.”
Depending on the school, the the annual stipend could range between $2,000 and $6,000. The SEC has already begun working on a proposal that would make all scholarship athletes, in every sport, eligible for the full-cost benefits.
How the system will work, and whether it will only include football and men’s basketball players, has yet to be determined. Title IX requirements prohibiting gender discrimination in athletics might extend new benefits to other sports.
Four-year scholarships, instead of the current practice of renewing scholarships on an annual basis, is also expected to be one of the first changes adopted by the Power 5 conferences.
There are 65 schools in the five conferences, including 15 in the ACC.
The proposed governance redesign legislation is subject to a 60-day override period as specified in the current legislative process. For the board to reconsider the change, at least 75 schools across the NCAA must request an override. Generally, reconsideration occurs at the next scheduled board meeting, set for Oct. 30.
Hatch, who headed up the steering committee that crafted the proposal, said on Wednesday that he was confident that the new structure would not be overridden.
A council with 80 – one representative from each school and three athletes from each conference – will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the legislative process.
While the Power 5 schools are prepared to take advantage of the new autonomy, the other schools left out of the power structure, including East Carolina University and Appalachian State University, would find themselves at a potential competitive and financial disadvantage.
The threat of the Power 5 leaving the NCAA umbrella altogether prompted this new model, Hatch said earlier this week.
The Power 5 conferences will remain in Division I and the revenue-sharing programs in place, notably for the television contract for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, will not be affected by the changes.
The established scholarship limits in all sports will remain the same as well.
“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 on NCAA.com.
“These changes will help all our schools better support the young people who come to college to play sports while earning a degree.”
ACC Commissioner John Swofford released a statement after the vote.
“The approval of the steering committee’s report on restructuring by the NCAA Board of Directors is a positive and necessary step in the continued efforts to ensure that we have a more effective and nimble NCAA moving forward. These changes will allow us to continue to prioritize how to better address the needs of our institutions, athletic programs and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”