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NCAA Board Votes to Give More Say to Students, Power Conferences

The National Collegiate Athletic Association approved a governance change that would allow athletes a greater voice in decision making and give more autonomy to its five biggest leagues.

Yesterday’s decision by the Division I board of directors is subject to a final vote in August once the NCAA gathers feedback from its members. If approved, the changes would be made about a month after the vote.

“The model we sent to the membership today is not a final product,” Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch, chairman of the board, said in a release on the NCAA website. “Some aspects of the model remain under discussion and we hope the membership will provide us further input.”

The meeting in Indianapolis was held on the same day the Washington-based National Labor Relations Board granted Northwestern University’s request to review a ruling that declared the school’s scholarship football players employees. Last week the NCAA approved unlimited meals for all athletes.

Lawsuits over the use of players’ images and claiming antitrust violations, as well as the effort by Northwestern players to form a union, have led to new scrutiny of college sports. In current broadcast contracts alone, the NCAA and its five richest conferences are guaranteed more than $31 billion. That doesn’t include other sources of revenue such as sponsorship, merchandise sales, ticket sales and booster donations.

Yesterday’s proposal gives the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences “autonomy to make rules on specific matters affecting the interests of student-athletes.”

Resource Gap

Prior to the start of the 2013 college football season, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby questioned the resource gap between programs and suggested that some leagues should operate under their own regulations. The Pac-12’s Larry Scott voiced similar sentiments in an interview with Bloomberg News this month.

Schools in the five conferences will be allowed to vote on financial aid packages, medical insurance and academic support for their athletes, as well as the possibility of paying for travel for families and free tickets to events.

In the next few months the NCAA will canvas members to further specify those areas of autonomy, according to the release.

The board also will seek feedback on the possibility of separating the next five highest-profile conferences -- the American Athletic, Conference-USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt -- into another autonomous group.

Yesterday’s proposal would also expand the board of the NCAA’s top division to include the chairman of the student-athlete advisory committee, the most senior member of the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association’s executive committee and the chairman of a new group tentatively called “the Council,” comprised mainly of athletic directors.

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