To understand this Byzantine process, remember the NCAA is a membership organization. All major reforms must ultimately be voted upon by the membership. These reforms focus upon Division I. NCAA President Mark Emmert and the reforming presidents have invoked a fast track method where the Presidential Board can pass legislation directly.
However, the membership has checks and balances. If a certain number of schools sign a petition, this small number can force the presidents to review the legislation. This happened at the last NCAA convention over the permission to allow conferences to permit increased grants in aid to cover cost of attendance and to permit conferences to award four year scholarships.
The Presidents reaffirmed the reform. The second check now allows schools to launch another petition to overthrow the legislation. If appeal gains 20% of the membership’s signatures, a vote to override will come up at the next NCAA convention. Design to permit maximum deliberation, this process has enabled an alliance between less well off football schools and very underfunded basketball only schools to stop change for years.
The Presidents’ reform agenda expands across many areas. The issues of relations with agents and restructuring compliance rules and enforcement lie ahead. But the reforming Presidents focused first upon student welfare. They pushed on increasing incentives for academic success and simple justice for providing athletes the cost of attendance and four year scholarships.
A number of reforms such as limiting schools with low graduation rates from NCAA tournaments and bowls or mandating a year of academic readiness for very at risk students buttress the education and student aspect of college athletes. They are both proceeding to implementation. They may be weakened in details, but surprisingly they are moving ahead.
Why the opposition to actions that would increase justice and academic success? Basically everyone in Division I but the ultra-elite 14-22 schools loses money, lots of money on all sports including football. The chasm between relatively well off football schools of the FBC and the weaker football FCS schools and basketball only schools drive many votes. Huge media contracts with the top conferences exacerbate the inequality. The less well off schools militantly oppose any cost increases. In addition the almost 200 non-football schools often support very small and underfunded programs. They virulently oppose any efforts that would increase costs whether justified by academics or justice. As an example, efforts to require summer school for at risk basketball players were soundly defeated on a class vote. Yet all the information suggested that mandated summer school would increase graduation rates.
The opposing schools claim that increased costs give a decided benefit in recruitment to the already well off conferences. They believe, correctly that the “permissive” legislation to allow schools to pay full cost of attendance will be picked up by most BCS conferences. To their mind this will further put them at a disadvantage. Schools mutter about “stockpiling,” and all fear having to pay the extra costs to the mandated equity of women’s sports.
Honestly, these arguments are disingenuous. Most elite players do and will continue to choose a FBS over a FCS school and a BCS school if possible. These schools already possess better coaching, facilities, competition and exposure. The proposed reforms for four-year scholarships and cost of living might aggravate but will not create this distinction. The “stockpiling” of players already happens, but most modern players will not be stockpiled and quickly transfer.
Well it is about confrontation, and only relentless pressure will get anything done. Even the schools who will benefit from these reforms are piling on to clear up the “details.” The opponents will be back and have a chance next year to vote to overturn it all. But things are changing at the grass roots level. Conferences are already facing parents and athletes who want four-year scholarships and push them toward offering the cost of attendance levels.
Despite the opposition, the reform movement has garnered successes. The denial of tournament entry is sticking. No one had the courage to oppose it, even if they hate it. The public support of the Secretary of Education has helped. Emmert and NCAA staff has moved ahead with modifying penalties and the Enforcement Committee has generally taken its cue from him going after schools aggressively such as the USC and the Ohio State penalties. The higher penalties need to be rationalized but stand as a bulwark long needed.
The “year of academic readiness” for at risk student athletes is making steady progress in implementation. In one of its great unsung successes, the NCAA has steadily increased the level of high school core course preparation required This change has helped higher graduation rates and lead to many better prepared student athletes.
These academic reforms are far more important in the long run for doing justice to the academic promise of student athletics. But still, enough student athletes cannot function at college when they arrive. Yet schools ask these grossly unprepared students to start on their teams immediately, carry a full academic load and not get full cost of attendance.
This whole approach is patently unjust to students and violates the promise of college sports. Many of us would return to freshman ineligibility to remedy this but it won’t happen. However, the plan to let underprepared student athletes have a year of academic readiness is critical. It limits practice time; builds on full time students; prohibits travel and helps underprepared student athletes focus upon becoming viable college students. Yet unlike past attempts, this approach keeps four years of eligibility. It does not penalize low income or minority athletes like partial qualifiers or Prop 48.
It costs money and it means that many teams will not be able to immediately use freshmen to save themselves especially in basketball. So you get opposition from the predictable sources and a fair degree of worry and confusion, but at least the ADs have enough shame to largely stay quiet. They let it ride and will fight to modify the rules so the minimum number of athletes will have their year of academic readiness.
The membership forced the Presidents to blink. Athletic directors and coaches are hectoring the Presidents at home. More than a few presidents caved to let the schools sign the petition. Now the Presidents have to take control of their athletic directors and coaches.
The membership will continue to balk. This time the Presidents have to tell their athletic directors and coaches to support the reform rather than letting their athletic directors and coaches run the university.