NCAA Governance Proposal Prompts Mix of Reactions

How much change is coming to the NCAA? A 14-page document the association distributed on Thursday provides a peek at some of the ways its Division I governance system could look different one day.

We’ve heard many of the ideas before, including a push to give the wealthiest five leagues more autonomy and provide athletic directors throughout Division I more voice in governing the system.

But the document describes some of those changes in more detail than I’ve seen before, offering a window into the NCAA’s governance dialogue that has taken center stage in recent months.

The proposal, which I describe in more detail here, is still in draft form. But it prompted a mix of reactions from people in and around big-time college sports.

Brian D. Shannon—a law professor at Texas Tech University and president of 1A FAR, an association of faculty athletics representatives at the highest NCAA level—said he was pleased that the document was organized around governing principles such as athlete well-being and academic rigor, maintaining a clear focus on higher education.

He was also happy that athletic directors and faculty reps have the potential to gain rule-making authority that would be “front and center” in a proposed new governing body.

He noted several mentions of the board’s potential new power to prevent as many overrides of rules by lower-resource institutions.

How that might work out is unclear, but he believes the board needs some ability to make decisions that are not subject to rollback.

“If you keep the same override process as now, then certain policy decisions would still face that challenge on a routine basis,” he said in an interview. “There’s a recognition that we have to alter that to get some new policies to move forward.”

Others viewed the proposed changes as mere “tinkers” to the NCAA’s byzantine governing structure.

The proposal would give poorer institutions a bit more of a voice, but not any more power—“and probably less,” said Welch Suggs, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Georgia and a longtime observer of the NCAA.

He saw the document as preserving the fundamental principles of the NCAA but allowing the colleges that want to operate their programs like corporations more leeway to do so.

“This could end up reducing the pressure on schools outside the Big 5 to increase salaries and hire more staff,” he said in an email. “It makes clear that the Big 5 is one employment market and the rest of D1 another, but I’m not sure.”

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