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NCAA President Emmert Sees More Autonomy Ahead for Bigger Conferences in Division I


NCAA President Mark Emmert is hoping for a “seminal moment” for his organization.NCAA President Mark Emmert is hoping for a “seminal moment” for his organization.

NEW YORK ― While this year’s IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum was vastly less explosive than last year’s, the pressing issues remain unchanged.

In 2012, the discussions at the forum centered on conference realignments — some of which were made public as the event was taking place. This year the mood was calmer, but no less decisive in terms of the undisputable disparities in Division I intercollegiate athletics.

It is without question that the 351 institutions that compete in Division I vary widely in terms of the number of sports offered, media exposure and resources. Conversation continues about a break in Division I, with the top five conferences separating, but by all indications that is less likely than a year ago. The five largest and wealthiest conferences — the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast — do want more autonomy.

In a session moderated by SportsBusiness Daily/Global/Journal executive editor Abe Madkour, NCAA president Dr. Mark Emmert said he anticipates changes to the scholarship model will move forward at the upcoming NCAA convention in January.

“I think this is going to be, I hope, a seminal moment in the NCAA, especially for Division I,” said Emmert. “The presidents have been talking for some time now about the need to have a decision-making structure and governance structure that allows them to make decisions more facilely and accommodate the huge, mostly economic differences across Division I.

“Right now, they’re trying to write the rules collectively and in some areas that’s very, very difficult,” he continued. “Changes would provide greater autonomy and the ability for large budget conferences — especially big five BCS equity conferences — that would allow them to have greater authority over a handful of areas so they can spend money more effectively on student-athletes and student-athletes’ success.”

The main things being discussed are a miscellaneous expense allowance and covering the full cost of attendance for student-athletes. Other things being considered are the money that can be spent to feed student-athletes and covering the cost of having a prospective student-athlete’s parent accompany him or her on an official campus visit. Another issue is a scholarship that allows a student-athlete who leaves after four years to return at a later point to complete his or her degree.

Emmert made it clear there is virtually no interest among NCAA membership for a pay-for-play model, and the conference commissioners from the top five conferences seconded that in a panel following Emmert’s.

“It’s about restructuring the relationship to focus on the success of student-athletes on the field, on the court, in the classroom and in life,” he said.

The NCAA is a membership organization and there has to be collaborative agreement, for which Emmert expressed optimism.

“The interest among the presidents is unequivocal: they really don’t want to break up [the] Division I,” he said. “They’d like to find a way to make this work.”

Part of the governance conversation is also about how to give more voice to athletic directors — perhaps moving the legislative decision making and the day-to-day policy questions to a new body dominated by athletic directors.

Madkour mentioned that at last year’s conference Emmert said the conference realignments had caused an erosion of trust among conference commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors. Emmert said that seems to have abated and people are settling into the new landscape.

“Today, there’s probably some healthy skepticism that we’ve turned a corner, but people like the direction we’re heading in,” Emmert said.

Discussions and debates around capital investments, salaries, travel costs, and more will continue, but Emmert said NCAA membership appears headed toward a consensus on things that directly benefit student-athletes, such as full cost of attendance.

“What I hope we’re going to see this coming year is some change in the regulatory department that will allow schools to make choices more effectively,” he noted.

A year from now, Emmert predicted a Division I governance model that’s more facile, engaged and inclusive in making decisions on behalf of students.

“So far this has been, among the presidents in particular, a really collegial conversation,” said Emmert. “Everybody seems to understand what the high budget schools need and there’s an increasing recognition of what the small budget schools need. I think they’re going to wind up in a pretty amicable place without anybody having to do threats.”

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