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September 25, 2013 Wednesday
SPORTS; Pg. 11C
|Athletics directors likely to play big role in reforms
Dan Wolken, @DanWolken, USA TODAY Sports
Inside a conference room near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, NCAA President Mark Emmert laid out a timeline for what are expected to be massive changes in the governance of college athletics.
In a speech to the Faculty Athletics Representatives of the so-called 1A organization, which encompasses schools in the top-level Football Bowl Subdivision, Emmert suggested that a new model for Division I could emerge out of presidential meetings in October, January and April, ready for implementation by August.
Meeting downstairs in the same hotel this week, athletics directors were skeptical. Hardly anything moves that fast in the world of college athletics, especially something as intricate as NCAA governance.
But as they emerged Tuesday morning, there was consensus not only that major changes were coming to the NCAA structure but also that athletics directors, who have felt marginalized in high-level policy discussions the last several years, were going to have a much bigger voice in how college sports are reshaped.
"There was a time when we were real leaders," said one Bowl Championship Series athletics director, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions this week were supposed to be private. "Because of the gyrations and the system reinventing itself over time, we were reduced to middle managers. Now we need to re-emerge as leaders. We're on the tarmac every day in this enterprise, and it's very important to us."
What direction the reform effort takes and exactly what role athletics directors play are unclear. But with virtual unanimity on the NCAA's need to modernize some policies and have a more flexible governance structure -- a conversation that officially started in July with comments from Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby -- there's motivation at all levels to enact significant change.
"If anything, the imperative for change is greater today than it was a few months ago," Bowlsby said. "It's just a matter of agreeing what that change is going to be."
Though discussions are in the early stages, some key themes about NCAA reform are emerging, based on conversations with several athletics directors and other power brokers.
An NCAA breakaway remains far-fetched: Despite significant frustrations with the NCAA, and particularly in enforcement where credibility is at an all-time low, there is zero momentum for forming a new organization. Even the formation of a so-called Division 4 for the richest schools is not likely to result in major change fans would notice. Rather, a new subset within Division I would be mostly about flexibility and voting power to enact policies without push-back from schools that don't have Bowl Subdivision football.
"I think it will be very 'inside baseball'-type of stuff," said one athletics director, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations are supposed to be private.
FBS seems unified: Despite vast financial differences from top to bottom, it seems there is relative agreement between all 10 FBS conferences on the big issues. One of the major misconceptions is schools in the Mid-American or Sun Belt, for instance, are concerned that more rule-making power would favor the wealthier conferences. The truth is those leagues have never been on a level playing field and are better off staying attached to the big schools.
"Everyone in the room brings something to the table that affects their campus, but at the end of the day you've got to have a united voice," TCU athletics director Chris Del Conte said. "It's the first time I ever felt like we had unbelievable dialogue from everybody. Some institutions drive a battleship, some drive tugboats, but coming out of it everybody was united on every front."
Federated governance might be considered: One concept floating around would be to reform the NCAA into an organization akin to the U.S. Olympic Committee, where each sport has autonomy to deal with unique issues. Though it's unclear how that would work, especially because television deals are negotiated by conferences, there's some consensus that governing football and men's basketball by the same set of rules as, say, tennis no longer makes sense.
Enhancing scholarships remains tricky: Though there's virtual unanimity athletes should, and ultimately will, receive some sort of stipend above the value of their scholarship, there's disagreement about how to implement it. After Emmert's plan for a $2,000 miscellaneous expense allowance was shot down by the membership in 2011, he has yet to come forth with a second effort, and now it appears nothing will happen until the governance issues are sorted out.
"It's still very much alive," Emmert said Monday. "I think clearly we need to be constantly looking at whether or not we're providing student-athletes with a fair relationship. The scholarship model that's in place right now has been the same for 40 years."
Reform on agent rules coming? Slive's comments to the Associated Press last week that the NCAA's current agent rules were "part of the problem, not part of the solution" caught the attention of high-ranking officials. Several SEC athletics directors told USA TODAY Sports that Slive had not addressed them as a group about those comments and weren't sure of his intentions, but the general feeling is that when he speaks, it's usually wise to listen.
September 25, 2013