Monday, August 15, 2011

The NCAA Presidents Stage a Governance Coup

The NCAA retreat of last week created immediate results and serious momentum towards major reforms. Most commentators have been pleasantly surprised or astounding by the progress made. I want to highlight one very important aspect—the NCAA Presidents staged a coup in the NCAA governance structure.

I agree with their decision and use the word “coup” specifically. Their actions bypass the existing elaborate governance structure to achieve immediate action. I want to emphasize their actions are totally within the constitution of the NCAA; but their approach reflects a lack of confidence in the existing governance structure.

Larry Scott the Commissioner of the Pac 10/12 stated it well; the NCAA governance structure creates “death by incrementalism.” As one who has participated in the structure, I agree. Often this is not a bad thing because bad ideas can fail and good ideas refined, but the process does not foster quick response or serious reform.

The NCAA is a member organization. 1400+ members participate at has three levels—Division I, II and III, and each level has its own voting procedures and laws. NCAA legislation and initiatives pass through a Byzantine system. Most legislation begins with schools or conferences and proceeds to subject area Cabinets where each conference is represented. Cabinet business proceeds at a very very slow rate. Each conference, each division has its own concerns and these tend to slow down and often halt progress on major issues.

Because of adverse court decisions, the NCAA is wedded to proceeding only where it has clear data suggesting that new policies are supported by data; this slows things down  even more and creates a huge and powerful knowledge bureaucracy. Finally even after the Cabinets deliberate, often for two to three years and carefully cull data, the proposed legislation goes out to all the conferences for comments, then it goes to the Legislative Council for refinement and often is sent back out to the collective body for further refinement and voting. Finally, the legislation goes out for a vote to the entire membership.

This process takes two to four years and discourages significant change. Death by a thousand cuts normally occurs.
I have worked for three years on pieces of legislation that go through endless vetting only to see it defeated and this is not uncommon. The process also invites immense focus upon picayuane issues such as the size of letters sent recruits.
However another avenue exists where the Board of Directors made of Presidents from each conference can pass directly pass. This is normally reserved for issues requiring immediate attention and seldom used. But even then, the Board decsions can be blocked by an override process where a limited number of schools can petition to have the legislation revisited. In the last three years the Board of Directors has passed good reform legislation only to have it stopped by override votes.

Past NCAA President Myles Brand grew to distrust the system and grew very impatient. His solution had been to create outside ad hoc committees populated by some Presidents, Athletic Directors, Senior Athletic Directors, as many relevant coach groups as possible and one or two faculty. These groups met and generated legislative packages that went directly to the Board of Directors after a pro-forma review by the system. In the case of Baseball and Football reform, it lead to significant and good changes, in the case of basketball, the committee results were DOA. This process got results but generated a lot of resistance and resentment from the 1400 member institutions and especially the 350+ 1A basketball and football members.

The organization has faced this dilemma for years. Glacial and unsatisfactory process creates reactive legislation loaded with nuance and minutia.

President Emmert is risking a different model. He has used this window of opportunity and near universal dissatisfaction with the NCAA as a chance to move the Presidents forward. The retreat tested Presidential support and courage, built some consensus. The immediate passage the APR legislation resembled a blood pact to stay together. Immense covert and overt opposition from many athletic directors and have not schools will oppose good reforms that cost money. To make this work the Presidents have to stay together and they have to ride herd on their athletic directors.

NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board convinced the Presidents to take control and act now and quickly. A few short time line committees are charged to generate specific legislation on very fast time lines.
To announce their seriousness and will, he Board of Directors passed unanimously and proudly new APR limits that will prohibit teams that do not meet APR minimum—an APR of 930 projects to a 50 percent graduation rate—from going to NCAA championships or NCAA certified bowl games. This matters affects every team and every championship.

This is a great piece of legislation. It never would have passed through the cumbersome cabinet, review, and Legislative Council process. The legislation also severely limits appeals, another bane of the NCAA that draws out the endless processes. In addition, the Presidents struck a blow for sanity and against ESPN and Texas by prohibiting university affiliated sports stations from televising high school games.

The Presidents have asserted control of the organization. By law and constitution, they have this right. In less troubled times, the endless complexifying process may be barely tolerable, but it makes significant and timely reform impossible.

The biggest untold story here is that the Presidents have declared their control. The reforms are the byproduct of this and will only work if the Presidents stay together.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if you could call it recession or something else but one things for sure. they need to do something to avoid going to bankruptcy