(Adds comments from National College Players Association and
sports management professor)
By Eric Kelsey
Aug 7 U.S. college sports took a first step in
addressing broad criticism about treatment of student-athletes
with a vote Thursday to grant some autonomy to rich athletic
conferences, a tacit acknowledgement of their unrivaled economic
The new structure among the five biggest conferences hands
them broader authority to set their own rules and could
potentially pave the way for the 65 universities to offer
compensation to student-athletes.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I
board of directors approved the measure that would let the
so-called power five - the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10,
Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference - self-govern in
areas such as scholarships, insurance and travel for athletes'
The conferences and the NCAA have faced legal, political and
public pressure to share its billions in revenue they generate
from amateur athletes and guarantee them stronger benefits.
"The new governance model represents a compromise on all
sides that will better serve our members and, most importantly,
our student-athletes," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a
The roughly 50,000 student-athletes would also get a voice
in how rules are created under the new self-governing structure,
but they would not have enough votes to hold up new regulations.
The new structure addresses the decades-old struggle between
the richest conferences and the rest of the NCAA member schools
over revenue generated in particular by football and men's
"Part of what's driving this is an effort to come to grips
with a dramatically different college sport ecosystem," said
Ellen Staurowsky, a sports management professor at Drexel
"For the power five conferences, this is a
'AFTER A LOT OF PRESSURE'
Less powerful Division I schools have complained that the
new model increases the gap between the have and have-nots. But
the wealthy conferences have also grown frustrated with other
colleges' resistance to adopt costlier changes, such as
increased scholarship funds.
The NCAA, which does not allow students to earn money for
their athletic performance, has been sued by former and current
athletes in U.S. court seeking a share of profits.
Scholarship football players at Northwestern University near
Chicago are also fighting for the right to unionize and
collectively bargain in a closely watched matter.
"It is important to note this has come after a lot of
pressure," Ramogi Huma, a former football player and now
president of the National College Players Association, said
about Thursday's vote.
The NCAA grosses roughly $770 million per year in media
rights for its annual Division I men's basketball tournament,
known as March Madness, which are then shared with member
The richest conferences, however, generate billions of
dollars each year exclusively for themselves through media
contracts and their own cable TV networks, primarily on the
popularity of football and men's basketball.
They are expected to consider easing regulations on agents,
recruiting and instituting a "cost of attendance" scholarship
and other guarantees that would help cover living costs for
athletes that are not currently offered.
The majority of college athletes do not go on to play
professionally and critics say the NCAA's current scholarship
policy short-changes athletes who risk injury and devote many
hours to practice sessions, travel and competition.
Many NCAA practices date back to a time when college
athletics were not the multibillion-dollar business they are
today. At the same time, students have become more vocal about
the shortcomings of the system as they see it.
One contentious issue often cited by critics concerns
scholarship athletes who lose financial support after suffering
career-ending injuries while playing for the school.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary
Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)