NCAA Autonomy Vote Passes For Big 5, OSU

Today, the NCAA's Board of Directors passed a measure allowing for a new governance structure in college athletics, one that allows major universities and conferences like Ohio State and the Big Ten to dictate more policy decisions. BSB breaks down what that means for college sports and student-athletes.

When the Ohio State men's basketball team was in the Big Apple this December to take on Notre Dame in the Gotham Classic, the athletics department wanted to provide the Buckeyes with the ability to see a show.

It might sound random, but that's the issue Gene Smith keeps coming back to when it comes to autonomy for the five power conferences in college sports.

"It's really around student-athlete welfare," Smith said. "The ability to buy tickets to a show in New York if our basketball team goes to play in New York vs. Notre Dame, we just buy them rather than wait for some committee to give us a freakin' answer."

It's a small thing, obviously, but it encapsulates a lot about what college sports' leaders are trying to change about the NCAA.

They want to streamline what they've allowed to become a byzantine, rule-layered system.

They want to give universities the ability to utilize their resources better.

And they want to improve the experience for student-athletes at a time when that is perhaps the most hot-button issue in sports.

Today, then, was the first step. The power five conferences in the NCAA – the Big Ten, the Big 12, the SEC, the ACC and the Pac-12 – were given what is being described as "autonomy" when it comes to setting many of the policies of college sports' ruling body in a vote of Division I Board of Directors. There is now an eye on receiving feedback before the NCAA officially adopts a new governance structure in August.

Per the draft of the new governance model, letting the top money makers in the sport to tailor legislation to their needs "allows the five conferences and their 65 member institutions to act on legislation for the permissive use of resources to benefit student-athletes as well as on certain well-being issues."

In addition, "Student-athlete voice and vote will be emphasized in the new governance model, a concept universally supported by membership comment and discussions."

That's exactly what Smith had in mind when discussing the changes in February with BSB.

"We will get our autonomy," he said. "Everybody agrees we have to have it in certain areas, which I thought was important. It's primarily student-athlete welfare. ... We're in this to say, we have the resources to do more for our kids, so give us the ability to do that."

Now, they have that, so what next? Expect some form of a cost-of-attendance stipend to be approved, though exactly how that will function remains to be seen. Ohio State would like to be able to provide as much as possible to student-athletes in as many sports as possible, Smith told BSB.

Per an NCAA release, this will also allow major conference schools autonomy in areas including "insurance, including policies that protect future earnings; academic support, particularly for at-risk student-athletes; and other support, such as travel for families, free tickets to athletics events, and expenses associated with practice and competition (such as parking)."

In addition, "The steering committee continues to discuss other areas that could be included in the areas of autonomy, including the creation of mandatory time away from athletics for student-athletes; eliminating rules that prohibit student-athletes from pursuing careers outside of athletics while still competing (for example, making music and art or writing a book); recruiting; transfer issues; and athletics department personnel."

Another choice already made came last week when restrictions on how many meals and snacks schools can provide scholarship athletes and walk-ons were removed.

"I don't care if a school wants to feed steak three times a day and be that way – so be it," Smith previously told. "I mean, that's not very bright, but that's kind of what started all this was, ‘We can't afford to do steak at dinner and sausage and eggs at breakfast. We can't afford to do that so you can't do that.'

"Now we have all these rules, ‘You can't have a bagel at 7:45 in the morning.' Just kill it all and deregulate it. Most places are going to do what's in the best interest of the student-athlete nutritionally."

That changing of the focus of the NCAA to legislate for the student-athlete – which has morphed into quite the revenue producer over the past two decades – instead of designing legislation for a façade of fairness between schools is a major philosophy shift, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said recently.

"Up until now, the foundation or the philosophy or the basis of legislation in the NCAA has been the so-called level playing field," Slive said. "If you replace that foundation and make the student-athlete the primacy, then what happens is you do things that are in the best interest of the student-athlete."

Smith is also quick to point out other programs Ohio State provides to student-athletes, including a study abroad program, a second-year internship program that this summer will include 20 athletes, programs to help ease the burden on athletes with children, and a discretionary spending fund provided by the NCAA for athletes in need.

"I'm constantly looking for what we can do next," Smith said.

Whether it will be enough to stave off looming threats to the college athletics system remains to be seen. Tomorrow, football players will vote at Northwestern on whether they want to form a union, while the National Labor Relations Board will also hear an appeal on a regional board's decision to allow unionization this summer. There's the famed O'Bannon lawsuit, and another antitrust lawsuit filed recently in New Jersey seems to have some major teeth.

Any of those suits making it through the court system with success would majorly upset the way college sports is run. And there are many issues still to sort out – especially whether the proposed changes are – both legally and morally – enough to help student-athletes and whether athletes should be able to profit on their likenesses.

But, starting today, college sports leaders are trying to bridge the gap.

"(Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany says it best," Smith said. "We're behind as an organization. We are behind. If we had the new governance structure in place two, three years ago when this stuff really started (being talked about), we probably wouldn't have had what we had because we would have dealt with a lot of those issues."

Transfer Change Adopted
In addition to the above business, a change to the NCAA transfer rules was adopted that will allow a sixth year of eligibility for athletes to finish their careers but not allow athletes to transfer and receive immediate eligibility.

Per the NCAA release, "Qualifying student-athletes who cannot transfer and play immediately without a waiver will be allowed a sixth year to complete their four years of eligibility. The change primarily impacts student-athletes who play baseball, basketball, bowl subdivision football and men's ice hockey, as well as those in other sports who already transferred once. These student-athletes would no longer be able to seek a waiver to transfer and compete immediately."

It affects mostly athletes who have decided to transfer because of a difficult family circumstance that caused t hem to make their decision.

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