NCAA conference tackles autonomy, voting

The NCAA is changing — slowly.

Starting last Thursday, Jan. 16, and running through part of the weekend, over 800 individuals from around the nation, including Division I athletic administrators, met in San Diego for the annual NCAA convention. They discussed a variety of issues ranging from student-athlete voice on NCAA subcommittees to restructuring of the NCAA’s current model. In several sessions, lasting up to seven hours, officials of varying titles and from various conferences sat at round tables of eight to 10 people, discussing and voting on issues facing the NCAA. Participants were encouraged to converse with officials they did not work with regularly or were not familiar with in order to encourage open debate, according to Executive Director of the Ivy League Robin Harris. Facilitators of discussion took notes at each table into the NCAA at the end of the proceedings. The proposal to give the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences autonomy in how they decided to spend their colossal comparative budgets was the largest issue of discussion.

“There are five conferences that devote substantially more financial resources toward their Athletic Department,” Harris said. “Those five are interested in being able in certain areas of the rules to be able to control their own destiny. For example, they would like to decide if scholarships would cover the cost of attendance.”

“Cost of attendance” is defined typically as a stipend given to players to pay for what would still be required to attend college, but not necessarily covered under a full-ride athletic scholarship. Various academic scholarships, on the other hand, may cover these expenses, such as a required laptop.

In unofficial polls from the conference, only 30 percent of respondents “strongly opposed” or “opposed” the idea of giving the five “power conferences” more autonomy, while 27 percent “strongly supported” the idea, 31 percent “supported” it and 12 percent remained “neutral.” Harris expressed her support for the legislative change, guided by the NCAA steering committee that will next meet in April and likely vote over the summer.

“I think from our perspective in the Ivy League we are fine with allowing them autonomy,” Harris said. “We would like to see the rules continued to the same academic and athletic standards. We are concerned with a more holistic view of the issue.”

In a second unofficial poll, respondents voted on giving full voting representation to student-athletes that sit on NCAA committees. A clear majority, 67 percent, of the constituents voted in support of voting rights for student-athletes.

Currently, student-athletes are permitted to sit in on various committees and provide direction and input, but are not allowed to vote.

“Right now, students are nonvoting members and I think giving them a voting opportunity makes sense,” Harris said. “I think student-athletes were already convincing because the administrators take into account student-athlete feedback prior to voting and I don’t know how much voting power would change that. However, it says something when you are part of a group and are actually a voting member of the group.”

Harris added that she believes athletes should be given voting power but noted that currently, cabinets and committees are receptive to student-athlete feedback and their opinions can often sway votes.

Some NCAA student-athletes, however, are not certain that the minor proposed changes to give student-athletes panel-voting power will have much of an impact.

“I believe NCAA administrators are in panic mode because the future of the current NCAA system is in question,” swimmer Danny Clarke ’14 said. “The NCAA has neglected the rights of athletes for decades. The new student voting system is progress, but I am not convinced much will change.”

Harris said that there are growing numbers of members of the NCAA that believe the NCAA needs to “be more strategic,” and as a result they are contemplating a smaller Board of Directors, as well as the proposal of Athletic Directors growing their role to have more sway than university presidents.

President Peter Salovey said he was unable to comment due to insufficient knowledge of the situation.

The NCAA Board of Directors plans to prepare a proposal for its April meeting regarding the restructuring of the “Power Five” conferences.

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