The biggest conferences in college sports may finally get exactly what they want—autonomy over some of today's most contentious issues.
After years of consternation and months of debate, the Indianapolis-based NCAA announced Friday that its board of directors will vote Aug. 7 on a formal proposal to give schools in the highest-profile conferences more influence over the college rules. The proposal also would give athletic directors and student-athletes bigger roles in the legislative process.
"The Division I membership overall and the steering committee in particular worked hard to create a structure that will allow the division to operate more simply and inclusively," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement released Friday. "It shows a clear commitment to support student-athletes and allow them not only a place at the table but a voice in the process."
The most sweeping changes would come in the newly-created council, which will be run primarily by athletic directors.
If three of the five biggest leagues agree they should have autonomy and 12 of the 20 university leaders on the board agree, then one representative from each of the 65 schools and three athletes from each conference would vote on the issue. The major conferences would have until Oct. 1 to come up with their first list of possible topics.
Emmert's support hardly means passage is a slam dunk, though.
In October 2011, he urged the board to adopt a new $2,000 per year stipend to cover the full cost-of-attendance— money beyond that allowed for tuition, room and board, books and fees. Two months later, it was overridden by the overall membership and has never been brought back for a vote despite Emmert's continued public support.
It could happen again. If the measure passes, schools would have 60 days to sign onto an override measure. If 75 schools joined the movement, the board must consider a rules change. If the total reaches at least 125, the rule would be suspended until the board schedules a vote to reconsider, which is what happened with the stipend.
But this may be different.
School and conference leaders from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC have publicly argued for more than a year that they need more influence. There has been speculation that if they didn't get that voting power, they would break away from the rest of the Division I schools and create their own college division. Though that was never those schools' first choice, they have grown weary of being an increasingly larger target for critics who complain about the amount of revenue college sports generate and the "paltry" portion athletes receive.
Under the new structure, the big boys of college sports would have nearly twice as much voting power and on some issues could implement their own rules, such as the stipend, without the votes of the smaller schools or imposing those rules on other conferences.
"The first item on the agenda would be the full cost of attendance—that's clear," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said earlier this week. "Then we'll build from there."
How would it work?
— The NCAA's complicated web of committees and subcommittees would be scrapped for two primary committees: The board of directors, run primarily by university leaders, and a council that is composed mostly of athletic directors -- dictating most of the rules. There would also be three subcommittees --one focused on academics, another on legislation and the last dealing with competition, championships and student-athlete well-being.
— The new board would be comprised of 24 members, including 20 presidents or chancellors — with five reps each coming from the major conferences, the other FBS leagues, the FCS schools and non-football playing Division I members. The other four voting members would include the council chair, the head of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and appointees from the Faculty Athletics Representative Association and National Association for Collegiate Woman Administrators.
— The modified proposal also gives two more faculty athletic reps seats on the council, which will vote on most legislation, for a total of 40 votes. Athletic directors are to account for 60 percent of the seats. The votes would be weighted, giving the major conference reps 37.5 percent of the total vote. The other FBS leagues would have 18.8 percent while FCS and non-football playing Division I schools would account for a total of 37.5 percent. Athletes and faculty reps would each account for 3.1 percent of the vote.
"We will begin to focus on student-athlete welfare in ways they will feel as early as next year," said Ohio State President Michael Drake, a member of the committee that came up with the formal proposal.
The NCAA said modifications to the current proposal could be made before the vote.
But the vision is clear: Something must change to make the process more effective for everyone.
"We've got some issues we've got to deal with," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said after helping produce a tentative proposal earlier this year. "We've got enough flashpoints out there that we need to build some credibility with the fan base. We've just got work to do and if the governance system is impeding these issues, we've got to overhaul the governance issues."