Major college sports programs could take a significant step today toward sharing their wealth with the student-athletes whose performances help line their coffers.
The NCAA Board of Directors is expected to vote this afternoon on a plan to restructure Division I athletics, which would give the five biggest athletic conferences autonomy in making certain rules and provide so-called enhanced benefits to student-athletes.
Following the vote, there will be a 60-day period for all 351 Division I schools to weigh in. If at least 75 of the schools ask for the vote to be overridden, the board has to reconsider and perhaps tweak the plan. If at least 125 schools want an override, the plan will be suspended.
Supporters of the proposal say it will let them enact changes that are long overdue. The 65 schools in these conferences — the Pac-12, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference — sometimes have felt constricted by the current structure, in which smaller Division I schools and conferences can band together and prevent legislation from passing.
A few years ago, for instance, there was a plan to allow schools to give scholarship athletes an additional $2,000 annual stipend. The proposal pitted big schools that could afford the extra money against smaller schools that couldn't, and there were enough of the latter to table the measure.
The plan up for a vote today would let the schools in those Big Five conferences set their own rules relating to student-athlete benefits without approval of the nearly 300 other Division I schools.
So if you're an athlete at one of those Big Five schools, you could be in line for some additional benefits. The biggest one is that your school could make your athletic scholarship "whole" — studies show that many of these scholarships often come a few thousand dollars short of covering the actual cost of going to college.
Another possible benefit is improved health care. Critics say athletes aren't properly covered, which can be a real problem in violent sports such as football.
Yet another possible change — among the more controversial — is that these schools could make rules allowing athletes to sign with agents while they're still in school. As long as no money is exchanged, they could negotiate future endorsement deals.
Critics say that granting autonomy to schools in these five conferences will give them a greater competitive advantage than they already have.
Boise State University is a non-Big Five school that has had some success in football, and the school's president has been very vocal in his criticism.
"The NCAA cannot fall prey to phony arguments about student welfare when the real goal of some of these so-called reformers is to create a plutocracy of athletic programs that serves no useful purpose in American higher education," President Bob Kustra wrote in a letter sent to CBS Sports and other media outlets.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Major college sports programs could take a significant step today towards sharing their wealth. In particular, they could share money with the athletes whose performance brings the money in. The NCAA Board of Directors is voting on a plan to restructure Division I athletics. This plan would give the five biggest athletic conferences autonomy in making certain rules and also provide so-called enhanced benefits to student-athletes. We're going to talk about this with NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman who's on the line. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi there.
INSKEEP: So why make these changes?
T. GOLDMAN: Well, supporters of the proposal say it's so they can enact some reforms that are long overdue. Sixty-five schools comprise these Big Five. That's the Pac-12, the Big 10, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference. They sometimes have felt constricted by the current structure, where smaller Division I schools and conferences can band together and prevent legislation from passing. An example - a few years ago, a plan to allow schools to give scholarship athletes a $2000 stipend. Some of the schools that could afford it wanted to do it, but enough of those who couldn't afford it, they squashed the proposal. This autonomy will let those schools in the Big Five make rules relating to athlete benefits without having to get approval from those non-Big Five schools in Division I, and there are nearly 300 of them.
INSKEEP: OK. So there's going to be perhaps somewhat different procedures and practices at different schools. What if you're a scholarship student at one of those Big Five conference schools? What is it going to mean?
T. GOLDMAN: You know, it'll mean you could be in line for some more benefits. Probably the biggest one is that the school could make your athletic scholarship whole. Studies show that many athletic scholarships come up short by a few thousand dollars, as far as, you know, covering the actual cost of going to college. Another possible benefit, improved health care. Critics say athletes aren't properly covered, and that could be a real problem obviously in violent sports like football. So the Big Five could legislate better coverage. And yet another, Steve - and this is kind of an eyebrow-raiser; I can hear your eyebrows raising as I tell this. The Big Five could make rules making it possible for you, the athlete, to sign with agents during school. As long as no money is exchanged, they could do that, and the agents could negotiate future deals for, like, Super Steve Energy Bars or Air Inskeep shoes, for instance.
INSKEEP: Well, I'm sure those would be big sellers and a big, you know, incentive for me to go to your school. But that's actually my next question, Tom Goldman. I'm wondering if these different rules for the bigger schools in effect - the bigger conferences anyway - is going to change the recruiting landscape. These schools that already have a huge advantage in recruiting high school athletes will have even more of an advantage 'cause they can say, look, we just pay more. We have better benefits. We're going to get you some money here.
T. GOLDMAN: Excellent point. You know, this is a big criticism of this proposal, that autonomy, you know, will give the schools in the Big Five conferences an even bigger competitive advantage than they already have. Boise State President Bob Kustra has been very vocal in his criticism along these lines. You know, Boise State is a non-Big Five school but has had success in football. He wrote a couple of months ago that the NCAA cannot fall prey to phony arguments about student welfare when the real goal of some of these so-called reformers is to create a plutocracy.
INSKEEP: And now the plutocracy is not here yet I suppose. There's still a vote that has to take place.
T. GOLDMAN: Yes, a vote has to take place, and then there's a 60-day period where all Division I schools have the opportunity to weigh in and override the vote. If at least 75 schools do that, then the board has to reconsider. If at least 125 schools override this thing, the vote is suspended.
INSKEEP: OK, we'll see what happens. Tom, thanks very much.
T. GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.