Coalition formed to 'protect' student-athlete experience

The 32 Division I conferences have formed a coalition as a show of unity in the face of potential changes and threats that could drastically alter college sports.

The ''Coalition to Protect the Student-Athlete Experience'' is described as a loosely knit forum for the conferences to deliver a message about the benefits college athletes receive.

The group is not related to the NCAA, but is designed to highlight the common goals of all conferences. The announcement of the coalition comes just days after the five wealthiest college sports conferences used their newly granted autonomy to pass legislation without the other 27 leagues.

Most notably, the Big Five increased the value of an athletic scholarship by several thousand dollars to cover the federally determined actual cost of attendance.

''For generations, college athletics have been a crucial part of the educational experience. Thanks to the way college sports are run, student-athletes gain an education, learn skills, and have opportunities in life. But today, those benefits are being challenged,'' Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement.

The Mountain West is one of the five FBS conferences not among the autonomous Big Five, though all those conferences also plan to pay cost of attendance and follow the lead of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference in directing more resources toward benefits for athletes.

Some of the other Division I conferences that do not play major college football have said they will be more selective about which athletes receive the cost-of-attendance increase.

Autonomy was seen as a way to keep Division I together, but some leaders at smaller schools worry it will create an even greater divide between the wealthiest conferences and the rest. The coalition is a way for the all the Division I conferences to show public support for a similar cause - keeping the current collegiate sports model in place.

The NCAA and its model for amateurism are facing threats from the lawsuits, congress and a unionization movement among Northwestern football players to move college sports in the direction of professional sports, giving participants at least some of the rights and compensation of employees.

The coalition is hoping to put more focus on the benefits of being a student-athlete.

''We're proud of what has been done for student-athletes across the collegiate landscape, recognizing that athletics are an important part of the academic experience,'' Thompson said. ''I'm pleased every Division I conference has joined together to protect and improve the college experience.''

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