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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

ACC commissioner John Swofford expects the five major conferences to gain the freedom they want.

The NCAA Division I board of directors will vote Aug. 7 on whether or not to grant the ACC and the other four power conferences autonomy to set some of their own rules regarding scholarships and other matters.

"I'll be surprised if it doesn't pass," Swofford said Sunday at the ACC's preseason football media gathering at a Greensboro hotel.

"The Good Ship Status Quo has sailed and it's time for some changes - and some significant changes."

If the ACC, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pacific 12 gain autonomy, they would still remain a part of Division I - and part of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

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But the richest leagues would be free to govern themselves without the less lucrative conferences - such as Conference USA, the Big South and the Southern Conference - blocking their path.

"The change ... is key to ensuring that the model reflects the needs of the 21st century student-athletes," Swofford said.

"That gives us an opportunity to do some things significant that need to be done and [still] keeps us under the big tent."

If autonomy is granted, the major conferences would devise this fall a list of rule changes that only they would vote upon.

One of the rule changes would be to give athletes in major conferences a stipend so that a scholarship would cover the full cost of attendance - money for expenses beyond tuition, books, fees and room and board.

In 2011, the board of directors adopted a $2,000 annual stipend. But about half the Division I membership disagreed with the decision out of concern for how stipends would affect budgets, gender equity and recruiting. So the rule was quickly scrapped.

If autonomy is granted, the major conferences will have to decide how much their stipend would be and whether the amount would vary by school or individual.

For example, said Swofford, the travel expenses of a Californian attending Virginia Tech are more than those of a Roanoke native attending Virginia Tech.

Some schools would prefer a need-based stipend, said Swofford.

Autonomy would strengthen the five conferences without damaging the rest of Division I, said Swofford.

But if the major conferences start giving out stipends, wouldn't it create haves and have-nots among Division I leagues?

"You have some of that now," he said. "You've got huge differences within Division I, and I'm not sure that this will exacerbate that a whole lot more."

Another change the major conferences want to make, said Swofford, is to adopt four-year scholarships.

The vast majority of Division I grants are one-year, renewable scholarships. A coach can yank a scholarship at the end of a school year for any reason.

Swofford said the major conferences also want to tinker with the NCAA's 20-hour weekly maximum for practice time.

Another rule change, said Swofford, would be to give elite athletes more freedom to get advice on whether or not to turn pro.

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July 21, 2014

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