Wednesday, January 15, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA is getting strategic.
It wants the nation's most powerful conferences to have more autonomy on some of college sports' thorniest issues. It wants athletic directors to have a stronger voice in decision-making. It wants the board of directors to focus on big-ticket items. And it wants everybody currently in Division I engaged in the debate, which begins Thursday at the NCAA's annual convention.
Welcome to the soon-to-be new NCAA.
"I think the board would like to charge others with doing more of the tactical and complicated details and the board should function more like a board should," Chairman Nathan Hatch told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "There are huge issues that face the NCAA — what's the nature of amateurism, what's the nature of injuries, what do you do when there's a strong critique that it's all about the money, what do you do to preserve academic integrity? That's what the board should be dealing with."
Usually, the board gets bogged down in legislative issues to combat the hot topics of the day.
Now, after months of discussing how to overhaul the NCAA's governance structure, the board is ready to put a broad proposal on the table.
The key is giving high-resource conferences and schools an opportunity to make some decisions on their own — such as implementing an athlete stipend toward the full cost of attendance, money that goes beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees.
In October 2011, the NCAA approved a measure allowing conferences to award athletes up to $2,000 more per year. Most of the big conferences quickly adopted the measure. But two months later, there was so much opposition from other Division I schools that the rule was put on hold.
Since then, NCAA President Mark Emmert has supported bringing back the stipend, though no formal proposal has been made. Emmert is scheduled to give his annual state of the association speech Thursday evening.
Last summer, commissioners of each of the so-called power conferences used their media days to lobby for changes to the way the NCAA does business. Hatch, the president at Wake Forest, an Atlantic Coast Conference school, and others heard the concerns and insist the debate is not just about giving money to players. They want schools to provide additional resources that will help student-athletes with everything from academics to health.
It's a tricky proposition. For decades, all Division I schools have played by the same set of rules.
Now, Hatch and others are hoping lower-resource schools, which often don't compete for the same recruits as the bigger schools anyway, are willing to stay in a division even if there are separate financial structures.
Some believe it could lead to a split. Hatch disagrees.
"The most important thing is that there's a broad consensus that Division I should stay as a group and not divide, and despite the wide differences, we are aligned about what college sports should be and our responsibility to educate student-athletes and prepare them for successful lives," Hatch said.
Board members hope to have a formal proposal ready for the board's spring meeting, in April. That could set the stage for a final vote at the board's summer meeting.
One change Hatch does support is giving athletic directors a bigger role.
"The NCAA was once their organization, and it's appropriately shifted more to the presidents," Hatch said. "But the ADs are the ones who put all this together on our campuses and are responsible for the coaches and the recruiting of student-athletes and the success of them."
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke has said that's what his group has been angling for all along.
"We as athletic directors have to take some ownership because when we changed the structure in 1997, we became just another player at the table," he said. "We may have laid back more than we should have. We probably ought to be much more engaged in the governance system."
Hatch said he would consider the creation of a new committee or at least changing the composition of the current committees — a move that could open the door to so-called outsiders becoming part of the process. The NCAA has traditionally relied on college and athletic department administrators, conference commissioners, faculty representatives and senior administrators to do that work.
"Some of them may be athletes, some may be journalists, people who have a commitment to the well-being of this distinct sort of thing we know as American college athletics," Hatch said. "They're the kind of people you would think of if you were putting together the board of a major national foundation or a Fortune 500 company."
Speculation would likely focus on people such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the former provost and current professor at Stanford and one of the 13 people who will be part of the College Football Playoff selection committee in 2014. Or Arne Duncan, President Obama's education secretary and a former basketball player at Harvard.
The board also is expected to consider a proposal that would give some transfer students a sixth year to complete four years of eligibility.
But it's the grander plan that will create most of the buzz this week in San Diego.
"I think the board has to be more strategic, more nimble. I think that's our challenge," Hatch said. "Clearly we're moving the in direction of making the NCAA more streamlined and more strategic in what the NCAA faces."