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A reform process that has been long, tedious and sometimes contentious will conclude today when the NCAA Division I board of directors is expected to approve a new governance structure that will give the five wealthiest conferences a significant measure of autonomy in their ability to make rules.
But for all of the historic implications of the vote, which will open the door for substantial changes in what schools can provide college athletes, in reality it is just one step in a process that will have several to go before new policies are put in place.
Part of that process, several industry leaders told USA TODAY Sports, will be fighting against the expectation that autonomy can fix the beleaguered collegiate model with one wave of the wand.
"We didn't get here with the issues we've got in six months, so we're probably not getting out in six months," said Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke, who played a significant role in the autonomy discussions as president of the D-IA Athletic Directors Association. "Because there's been all this buildup, (the public thinks) once we've got autonomy there's going to be an agenda that's clear-cut and decisive. But I don't think it'll be that fast."
Nothing is in college athletics.
In fact, the real intrigue isn't even in the vote at NCAA headquarters, which follows months of backroom meetings, threats by conference commissioners and proposal revisions before a steering committee of eight college presidents settled on a governance structure that has been widely viewed as an acceptable compromise.
Still, the path ahead for the Power 5 conferences (Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern) could be filled with drama in the coming months.
The first act will play out in the next 60 days, when individual schools have the opportunity to veto the autonomous governance structure. If 75 of the 351 Division I members lodge override votes, it would go back into a review process. If 125 objected to autonomy, the proposal would essentially be dead, triggering a much greater discussion of whether the Power 5 forms its own division or perhaps breaks away from the NCAA altogether.
Hardly anybody within the industry expects it to come to that.
But even after autonomy becomes official, the next steps are delicate and complicated. In a matter of months, the Power 5 will have to decide on its process for introducing new legislation, a nomination and vetting process for members of the various committees associated with the new governance structure -- including three athletes per conference with voting power on autonomous issues -- and drafting a realistic agenda that can be considered in January at the NCAA convention. Any legislation would then likely take effect for the 2015-16 academic year.
Discussions on one of the front burner issues, how to calculate the full cost of attendance, are still in the relatively early stages, however, and there could be significant disagreements among the five conferences.
Burke, for instance, said there's merit in a central office assigning values to certain incidental expenses a college athlete might encounter and coming up with a standard number that can be adjusted a few percentage points based on cost of living differences between, for instance, athletes who attend school in Los Angeles or Manhattan, Kan. Georgia Tech athletics director Mike Bobinski, on the other hand, said the ACC is working on a need-based proposal to put forward for the other conferences to consider.
The difference between those two approaches highlight the biggest misperception about autonomy. Though it has been framed largely as a divide between the haves and have-nots in college athletics, there are enough financial differences among the 65 power conference schools to make the details sticky in almost any reform proposal, even if there is wide philosophical agreement.
"There are probably 20 schools for whom this is like, 'No big deal, bring it on,'" Bobinski said. "The other 45, there is no wiggle room on an annual basis and we're going to have to be creative and raise additional revenues to help fund this, but we're not going to be left behind. If it's right, then we can do it."