August 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

Athletics officials say power conference autonomy will benefit student-athletes

Illustration by Kim Storeygard/Detroit News (Victor Fraile / Getty Images)

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has always been concerned with improving the day-to-day experience of his student-athletes, not to mention post-college career health care, and he now believes many of those concerns can be addressed.

The NCAA Board of Directors voted 16-2 on Thursday to grant the five biggest football conferences — the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC — more autonomy and allow them to change some rules.

What is not expected to be discussed, however, is paying athletes. Nor is it likely the five conferences will be involved in determining policies for infractions.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement Thursday that he and Big Ten conference members are pleased with the vote.

“With the adoption of a structure that allows for autonomy, we can begin enacting legislation that addresses a variety of important student-athlete issues,” Delany said. “I couldn’t feel better about our colleagues in the Big Ten, or those in other conferences, who put in so much time and effort proving once again that as an industry we are capable of coming together on behalf of our student-athletes.

“The new governance structure preserves the many traditions of Division I athletics while directly impacting all student-athletes competing at that level who will benefit from improved academic, health and safety initiatives resulting from the additional resources generated by the NCAA Basketball Tournament and other NCAA revenues. We look forward to moving past the process that brought us structural autonomy and on to the prospect of substantive reform that focuses on education and student-athletes.”

Brandon also is pleased with the direction of this vote but cautions patience.

“We understand that this is Step 1 and that these transformative changes will not take place overnight,” Brandon said. “This new structure will provide greater opportunities to address issues directly affecting student-athletes — academics, scholarship, cost-of-living and health and safety — in a faster manner than what currently exists under the previous model.

“Today’s vote is a major step for intercollegiate athletics that ultimately will improve the student-athlete experience on our campus.”

Earlier this year, Brandon and Delany spoke in Detroit at a WWJ panel discussion. Brandon is vehemently opposed to paying athletes, and both men agree that college athletes should have some kind of medical support in the event of a debilitating injury.

That is the type of issue the new “Power Five” can address.

“We absolutely believe there should be a provision much like you see in the professional ranks,” Brandon said earlier this year. “We already provide all kinds of health and medical support during the time these student-athletes are on campus.

“And in the event any of those student athletes have an injury or some form of disability that’s going to impact their employability or their quality of life, I absolutely believe that we need some kind of safety net program that’s funded at the national level, the conference level or the institutional level — we need to figure that out — I absolutely think that’s important.”

The council will include student-athletes, conference commissioners and faculty representing 65 universities in the five conferences. They will help legislate the 350 Division I schools.

There remains a 60-day period in which this vote can be overridden by 75 schools signing a measure to do so. If that doesn’t happen the new system can begin working in January.

While paying players is not expected to be a consideration, the “Power Five” likely will add money to the student-athlete stipend to help cover incidentals and costs not included in tuition.

The power conferences will have until Oct. 1 to enumerate the areas where they want autonomy.

MAC effect

Second-year Western Michigan football coach P.J. Fleck had a top-60 recruiting class last season and is working on another outstanding class.

Fleck feels the news from the NCAA could benefit his program.

“It could work to an advantage for us if we can find the resources,” Fleck said. “Our community has been very supportive. It’s just like raising money for facilities, except you’d be raising it for the student-athletes. It will be interesting to see where we go from here, though, where our conference stands with the issues, what it will allow us and everyone else to do. For every problem I believe there’s a solution.

“We’ve been able to beat bigger (Power 5 conferences) with recruiting before and we’ve always been at a disadvantage. Sure, there will be (recruits) who want to know who can give me the most … a lot will be in for that reason, but you still have to get the right people. It’s not about materialistic things, but instead all about educating and developing the student-athletes to get them ready for their future.”

Central Michigan coach Dan Enos said his recruits get four-year scholarships when they arrive on campus. He also said his players haven’t gone home hungry.

“Our players know it’s a privilege to play college football at Central Michigan while on scholarship, and that four-year scholarship is guaranteed when you come to Central Michigan,” Enos said.

“We don’t cut guys. The only way you’ll lose a scholarship here is if you commit a felony or for some academic reason so there’s a little misconception with that.”

“I’ve met with our kids and haven’t ever heard they were going home hungry. I was a student-athlete (quarterback at Michigan State) and I don’t recall that happening. I think the model we now have is safer than ever.”

David Goricki contributed

New era of college athletics

The five biggest football conferences — Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12 and Southeastern — will have more control over legislation on some of the most contentious topics in college sports, including adding money to scholarships. A look at the issues:

Checks and balances

To gain control of such issues, a majority in three of the five conferences must agree along with 12 of the 20 presidents or chancellors. All 65 schools and 15 student-athletes, three from each conference, would cast votes. Passage would require 48 votes and a simple majority of support from school reps in at least three of the five conferences or a simple majority of all votes (41) and a simple majority from school reps in four of five conferences. The five major conferences have until Oct. 1 to create their first list of proposals.

Everyone else

All 32 Division I conferences would have a voice in legislative matters not deemed “autonomous.” These areas include championship administration and policy, oversight of membership standards and management of sports or topic-specific studies intended to formulate recommendations. Most legislation will be delegated by the newly expanded board to a newly created council that replaces two committees that previously helped draft legislation. Two student-athletes would vote on the council, and voting would be weighted toward the five biggest conferences (37.5 percent of the vote).

Red tape

The NCAA would reduce the large number of subcommittees to three: One focused on academics, one on competition and student well-being, and one to assist the council with its legislative role. The Committee on Academics will report to the board and is expected to maintain a close working relationship with the council and the other two subcommittees.


University presidents and chancellors will maintain control on oversight and strategic decisions through the board of directors.