College Football Powers Seek Leeway to Flex Muscle Through Rules

College sports’ governing body probably will consider new rules in the coming months that allow the most powerful football programs to spend more on their athletes, while giving poorer programs the option to adopt them.

Commissioners from the biggest conferences have complained that rules designed to ensure a level playing field across the 125 schools in the top echelon of the sport are unfair to them.

National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert, conference commissioners and athletic directors are discussing changes that may include costly options such as paying athletes a stipend of as much as $4,000 a year. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said a one-size-fits-all rulebook doesn’t work when schools in the top division range from Texas with a $163.3 million budget to Louisiana-Monroe at $11.3 million.

“The concept of competitive equity through rules management is largely a mirage,” Bowlsby said in an interview. “It hasn’t worked at any level. The majority of the championships at all levels are won by about 80 schools.”

The college football season began last night, when No. 6 South Carolina beat North Carolina 27-10, and No. 24 Southern California topped Hawaii 30-13. Most schools begin play tomorrow, with No. 1 Alabama facing Virginia Tech in Atlanta, No. 2 Ohio State hosting Buffalo and No. 3 Oregon hosting Nicholls State.

Among the type of changes the wealthy schools would propose, Bowlsby said, might be feeding athletes three meals a day, what’s known as the training table, up from the current one meal six days a week.

“It’s an expensive undertaking,” Bowlsby said. “Mid-majors might not want to go to three meals a day, but restraining those that do isn’t right.”

Lifetime Scholarships

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has said he wants lifetime scholarships so athletes can return to school to finish their education after attempts at professional sports careers, and a year where academically at-risk athletes don’t play, but still have four years of remaining eligibility.

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said some rules are silly rather than costly.

In 2005, Smith wanted to put a fence around the parking lot outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to protect players from entrepreneurs seeking autographs on jerseys and caps, which they would sell on eBay hours later.

The fence was considered an extra benefit by the NCAA, because it gave the players a private parking lot. Smith says it took dozens of phone calls over several weeks to convince the NCAA to let Ohio State build the fence. The school still has to keep the lot open several hours a day for public access.

It’s the sort of issue that players at less popular athletic programs probably don’t face, Smith said in an interview.

$2,000 Stipend

The argument over governance of the biggest football programs became public two years ago when Emmert proposed giving scholarship athletes a $2,000 stipend to help pay for living expenses not covered by their scholarships. Some schools are now saying it should be as high as $4,000.

While the richer programs could afford the additional $500,000 to $1 million annual cost, many small programs couldn’t and voted it down.

Athletic directors at schools outside the major conferences -- the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Wilmington, Delaware at ceichelberge@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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