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Breaking down NCAA's approval of Power Five autonomy

Breaking down NCAA's approval of Power Five autonomy Photo:

The NCAA announced the approval of a new governance structure Thursday that provides legislative autonomy to the so-called "Power Five" conferences.

The NCAA's Division I Board of Directors used a 16-2 vote to adopt the new governance model, which had been proposed to member institutions last month. This movement by the NCAA paves the way for major athletic departments within the Power Five conferences -- the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- to provide increased benefits to student-athletes.

In a statement Nathan Hatch, board chair and Wake Forest University president, said the revamped structure should enhance the experience of NCAA student-athletes.

“Today’s vote marks a significant step into a brighter future for Division I athletics,” Hatch said. “We hope this decision not only will allow us to focus more intently on the well-being of our student-athletes but also preserve the tradition of Division I as a diverse and inclusive group of schools competing together on college athletics’ biggest stage.”

The autonomy proposal, released to member institutions on July 18, listed a number of steps the 65 Power Five schools hope to take with new increased legislative power.

"The 65 member institutions are committed to meeting the needs of student-athletes based on increased resources, and they desire to provide student-athletes with enhanced benefits such as full cost of attendance, lifelong learning and additional health and nutritional benefits," the proposal stated. "In addition, they desire to support student-athletes who are considering careers as professional athletes by providing more opportunities for that decision-making process to occur in a fair and fully informed manner."

The NCAA's new governance model is subject to a 60-day override period, and the Power Five conferences are now expected to create an agenda to present at the NCAA Convention in January.

In the NCAA's initial proposal, the Power Five sought increased voting power in 10 key areas: Financial aid, health and wellness, meals and nutrition, expenses and benefits, career pursuits, insurance and career transitions, time demands, academic support, recruiting and personnel. However, the Power Five's legislative autonomy is not complete as it does not include the power to enact rules concerning certain topics, including transfer eligibility, scholarships limits, academic standards and enforcement.

For legislation to be passed through autonomy, the Power Five conferences will select one representative from each of its universities to vote, as well as three student-athlete representatives per conference. Those individuals would cast a total of 80 votes, and an item would then pass in one of two ways. First, if 60 percent (48 votes) of the vote and a simple majority of schools from three of the five conferences support the item, it would pass. The item could also pass if a simple majority of all votes (at least 41) and simple majority of the schools in four of the five conferences support the measure.

After the threats sparked by the likes of the Ed O'Bannon antitrust trial and the unionization efforts of Northwestern football players, major athletic programs have been searching for a way to alter the NCAA's current amateurism model. Autonomy is a major step in the right direction for universities that bring in enough revenue to enhance the student-athlete experience. But how and when those changes occur is another question entirely.

It's unclear whether the NCAA's vote this week will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots in college athletics in the near future. That's a major argument against autonomy and, to a lesser degree, against allowing schools to provide more benefits to student athletes. But this is not a new problem. As SI.com's Ben Glicksman reported from a Big 12 forum in New York on Wednesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby hit the nail on the head when he said the Power Five needed to start changing what they could change.

“The rules and the changes that might be made are an attempt to be permissive, but they’re also intended to take into account the fact that those 65 [power-conference] schools are largely the face of what most people know as college athletics,” Bowlsby said. “… I think we got to a place where we just believe that there was a need for us to perhaps be a little less egalitarian, a little less magnanimous of the 350 schools and spend a little time worrying about the most severe issues that are troubling our schools among the 65.”

We've already seen examples of the NCAA's moneymakers taking matters into their own hands when it comes to student-athlete benefits. USC announced in June that it would provide four-year scholarships to scholarship players on the football team and men's and women's basketball teams. In April the NCAA's Legislative Council voted to allow unlimited meals and snacks for Division I student-athletes. With Thursday's vote, the door is finally open for Power Five schools to use college athletics' increasing revenues and enhance the experience for student-athletes. Will college sports change dramatically due to this vote? Probably not, but for the NCAA, autonomy is an important step in restructuring the amateurism model in its favor.

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