New powers for five NCAA conferences will alter collegiate playing field

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    The Power 5 conferences could be setting their own rules for their student-athletes early next year if the NCAA gives final approval to a plan for autonomy at its January meeting.

    The NCAA Board of Directors is expected to finalize a part of the new NCAA governance structure in January that gives autonomy to the Big 12, Pac-12, Big 10, SEC and ACC. The autonomy gives these five conferences the right to create and pass legislation without consent from smaller conferences.

    “We do anticipate that the autonomy legislation that [is] being put forth, and still being formulated today, will be passed,” said Chris Del Conte, TCU’s director of intercollegiate athletics. “We’ve got [to do] what’s right for our student athletes.”

    Gretchen Bouton, senior associate athletic director for compliance and student services, said the autonomy legislation and its possible effects are being compared to when Title IX, the federal legislation that required university programs to create parity for women, passed in the 70s. 

    “People thought it [was] the end of college athletics. It obviously wasn’t, you adjust,” Bouton said. “It’s the same way now. There will be some terrible unintended consequences, and there will be some great unintended consequences.”

    The new NCAA governance structure will consist of a Board of Directors, a “Council,” a substructure (an academic cabinet) and the Power 5’s autonomy structure.

    “The five conferences in this new autonomy structure will meet and vote on things outside of the larger council,” said Kim Johnson, TCU’s senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator. Johnson is TCU’s liaison to the Big 12’s internal governance structure.

    The ability to pass their own legislation would allow Power 5 universities to offer more benefits to student-athletes, such as enhanced scholarships, which likely would not be offered by those in other conferences.

    Del Conte said Power 5 conference officials are discussing adding full cost of attendance and 4-year guaranteed scholarships, rather than the 1-year renewable scholarships athletes play under now. Conference officials are also discussing compensating student athletes for using their name, image and likeness. There’s also talk of providing health insurance and other benefits.

    Del Conte said TCU would support any of these potential changes.

    “If these things do pass, we will be prepared to act and put forth what we need to do to stay competitive in the landscape,” Del Conte said. “However the rulings go, we will enact either way.”

    Under the current autonomy proposal, each Power 5 conference would choose three student-athletes, male or female, to participate in the separate legislative body.

    “I think the biggest piece of this new structure is the voice that the student athlete gets — [they] get a seat at the table, they get a voice in the discussion and they get to make their voices heard when its time to vote,” Johnson said. “That will be power, I would say, in and of itself.”

    Conference representatives would make up the rest of the 80 total votes: 15 representatives from the ACC, 14 from the Big 10, 14 from the SEC, 12 from the Pac-12 and 10 from the Big 12. This structure is not finalized.

    Dr. Rhonda Hatcher, TCU’s faculty athletics representative (FAR), said the addition of autonomy would also allow the Power 5 to better address the numerous lawsuits they are facing.

    “We spent 90 percent of the time in the last Big 12 meetings talking about legal things,” Hatcher said.

    The current structure with the smaller, lower-revenue conferences makes it difficult for the Power 5 to resolve their legal issues.

    “In order to react to lawsuits and try to give people what they want and be in some kind of legislative structure where they can pass it, they have to have autonomy,” Hatcher said. “They need to be somewhere where they can get these things through. They’re willing to do it, but they can’t get it passed in the bigger structure.”

    That inability to take action had some questioning whether the major-revenue conferences should split from the NCAA.

    But Bouton said separating the 65 Power 5 institutions from the NCAA would be detrimental. She said matchups between big-name schools and schools in smaller conferences are “fun,” especially in the NCAA March Madness tournament.

    “There goes the magic of college athletics,” Bouton said.

    Hatcher said the addition of autonomy is not a “power grab” for the Power 5.

    “Some people portray it as they’re going to go crazy and build crazy facilities, and we’re like… they already do, man,” Hatcher said. “The way it’s going to change is the students are going to get more stuff. It’s all pro-student-athlete stuff.”

    Del Conte said the consequences of the autonomy are hard to forecast, but we should “just let the thing play out.”

    “I look back to different events, [and] everything that happened strengthened the athletic department,” Del Conte said. “So I’m not really fearful.”

    NCAA officials will vote on the proposed autonomy structure at the NCAA Convention Jan. 15-18.

    “Everyone is going to work at making this work ultimately for the student athlete because that’s what all these changes are about — to accommodate student athletes and their welfare,” Johnson said. “That’s huge for them.”

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