Athletic directors mull potential NCAA shift

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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — As the ACC’s athletic directors gathered this week to shape the league’s future, it was impossible to ignore that, in a few months, major NCAA changes could be looming.

One of the big topics at the ACC’s spring meetings this week was the potential changes to the NCAA governance structure. The Division I Board of Directors recently endorsed a new model. It will be officially voted on in August and one of the primary shifts would be to give the “power five” conferences — the ACC, Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 more autonomy to create legislation.

“The whole idea here is that you would have some permissive legislation that would allow some schools to do things but not require everybody to do things,” Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said. “So if we felt like, as five conferences, this is something we were really interested in doing, that if it made sense and we could pull it together, we could take it through the five without everybody voting on it.”

This week, the athletic directors met with Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, one of the leaders in the NCAA’s reform efforts. The goal was to get a clearer picture of what the restructuring meant and how it would be implemented.

One of the early sticking points in the review process has been the supermajority needed for the power five to pass new legislation.

Any item would be voted on by the 65 schools, as well as 15 student-athlete representatives, and need a two-thirds majority to pass.

According to USA Today, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany thought that threshold was too high. Pederson disagreed.

“The idea of the autonomy was that ostensibly, we all want to do this,” he said. “So, if you say we’ve got five conferences and we all want to do this, well then, getting a 65 percent majority or whatever shouldn’t be a big deal.

“If it’s that close, then maybe it’s not really something that everybody wants to do.”

A major impetus for changes in governance came a few years ago when most of the power-five conference schools wanted to pass a $2,000 stipend for their athletes but were blocked by smaller schools that would not have been able to afford it.

Under the new model, the 65 schools would be able to legislate some sort of increased compensation for their athletes, whether it be in the form of a stipend, a full cost-of-attendance scholarship or some other avenue.

The full cost-of-attendance scholarship has gained traction recently, but, as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick pointed out, figuring out what exactly constitutes “cost of attendance” at various schools is another challenge entirely.

“I wish people would use a phrase other than ‘cost of attendance,’ ” Swarbrick said.

“It’s a fiction. It bears no relation to reality. You look at the cost of attendance of two schools located in comparable geographic situations, and they’ll be thousands of dollars apart.”

Another option Swarbrick proposed, which was supported by Pederson as well as North Carolina State athletic director Debbie Yow, was the possibility of using the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund to help athletes in need of help for covering living expenses.

The fund — which totaled just over $73 million as of August 2013 — is made up of television revenue from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and can be used to help athletes buy a suit for a job interview or fly home to see family.

Currently, athletes can only request $500 per semester (except in emergencies), but there’s a chance that could be reviewed.

A major benefit of using that student-assistance fund, according to Pederson, is that initiating reform within an existing framework would eliminate the need to create new, potentially unwieldy, governance structures.

“I think people realize the value of the student-assistance fund,” Yow said.

“Most of us are maxed out on our student-assistance funds.

“In other words, you can carry over money, but most of us don’t have money to carry over because we’re already spending it on trips home. There’s a formula, but the formula could change.”


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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