College sports leaders say major NCAA overhaul imminent
As university presidents from the five major conferences continue discussions in Washington D.C. this week on the NCAA's impending overhaul, the future of the NCAA continues to gain clarity.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a phone interview last week that he considers three key tenets to NCAA reform -- student-athlete welfare, governance changes and enforcement changes -- to be established in the next few months.
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, who is the Big Ten's representative on NCAA reform, said the main objectives of the Big 5 leagues -- the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 -- are to "embrace the NCAA" while still maintaining "control over our own destiny."
Perlman said the discussions in Washington this week will revolve around a document outlining potential changes in the NCAA that have been agreed to in principle by representatives of the Big 5 conferences. "We're not anxious to move outside the organization," Perlman said.
It's becoming clearer that pronounced changes to the NCAA's much-maligned enforcement system are coming. NCAA enforcement has appeared to reach a nadir after multiple high-profile mistakes in the Miami case led to internal mass defections.
"The enforcement mechanism is flawed," Perlman said. "I think some attention needs to be given to it. I don't think it can continue in its current form."
Scott said there needs to be "some hard questions" about the "jury of your peers" model, as the Committee on Infractions is currently structured. He added that outsourcing enforcement is something that's been discussed.
"I'd say we're only at the idea stage and not very far along," he said. "We're looking carefully at involving outside resources. I'm sure that's something that will be considered."
The drumbeat for schools to break away from the NCAA or create a so-called Division 4 has faded away. Perlman said there's an aim to essentially get a separate set of rules within the current NCAA structure for high-revenue schools. This would mean that Maine's athletic department, with its inherent fiscal limitations, will not be able to vote to limit what USC can spend.
"We want to be able to administer, legislate and govern our affairs without having to achieve a consensus among all the rest of schools not as directly impacted as we are," Perlman said.
This would mark a significant shift in the NCAA governance model, as under the current structure Ohio State and Texas follow the same set of rules as Buffalo and New Mexico. This has happened despite a revenue gap that can be upwards of $100 million annually. There's a notion among presidents and athletic directors that there's no need for these schools to separate from the NCAA, as they've already separated themselves with their budgets, television networks and the salaries they pay their coaches.
Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, the chair of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, will not be in attendance in Washington but said there are still complex issues to iron out.
"Obviously the NCAA Division I is so large, there's an agreed upon sense that more flexibility needs to be given toward the bigger conferences," Hatch said. "Even that's complicated. Are you taking about just the Big 5 or everyone involved with the college football? How that is specified, that's what has to be ironed out."
The pillar that everyone seems to be in agreement on is taking better care of student-athletes without paying them. Perlman stressed that there's no momentum toward paying athletes. But by separating the Big 5 in terms of governance, those schools may be able to better care for their athletes, be it with a cost of attendance policy, a stipend or something as simple as making more food available.
"The fact is that with all this revenue that we have, we can spend it on anything we want under current NCAA regulations, except to benefit student-athletes," Perlman said. "That's where we're regulated and prevented from doing things. I'm not saying we're going to pay them. None of us would agree to that. But there are a variety of areas to have opportunities among the five to consider the rules we want to live with."
Perlman declined to directly address what's in the document that's become the basis for this impending overhaul. He did say that it has not been shared with the other five Division I conferences.
"At some point in time, we want to engage the full group of 10 that are part off the college football playoff and other Division I schools and see if what we're asking for makes sense to them," he said. "Most of our interest is to find a way to engage within the traditional NCAA process to find way to achieve the things we need going forward."
Perlman said the timetable for NCAA changes is still on target for August. The key date on the calendar still appears to be the NCAA Convention in San Diego from Jan. 15-18. By that point, ideas will be formally presented.
"I think they'll be some significant changes," Scott said. "There's certainly significant concerns. Now that conferences are engaged at different levels, I'd like to see more significant changes."