Mike Slive stepped up to a microphone last week at the University of Massachusetts as the keynote speaker and then casually stated that he was onboard with blowing up college sports as we all know it. He agreed that the NCAA will create a five-conference subdivision of the "equity conferences" this August, and will likely spend the first year drawing up new rules.
He also lowered the boom: "What we're trying to give them is what [student-athletes] are asking for."
People spend a lot of time speculating about super conferences and realignment, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the realignment of the governance of Division 1 itself. Almost every proposal regarding reform on the realities of big-time college football has stalled because the interest of most of the membership does not align with the power conferences.
That's about to change. And the best way to keep the federal government out of college sports is to enact reforms yourself, and control things yourself. If the players are working towards change, many fans are clamoring for change, and administration is on board with change, then guess what? Change is a-coming.
Slive stated seven goals for the new subdivision, so let's go over them one at a time, as laid out by Ivan Maisel's reporting:
Providing the full cost of attendance to grant-in-aid recipients
That's a stipend, people. This is pay-for-play, though the NCAA will never call it that, nor should they. The five equity conferences are the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, ACC, and Pac-12 (and Notre Dame is part of the ACC for this reorganization). That is 59 schools that will provide a stipend of some sort.
The NCAA killed a proposed $2,000 stipend, mainly because smaller schools without the big revenues couldn't afford it. The equity conferences almost certainly can. I don't know how many full scholarships each school has, but let's guess on the high side, around 300. Let's then assume that since we are only dealing with big money schools, the proposed stipend is a bit higher, say around $8,000. Even with those high numbers, a school would be on the hook for $2.4 million. If a school can't afford that, then they shouldn't be playing big time college football. It's not a drop in the bucket, but it's also not an incredible burden either.
Fulfilling the health, safety and nutrition needs of student-athletes
This is huge. If you look at the list of demands of the proposed student union, player safety is one of the biggest concerns. Considering NCAA lawyers came up with the term "student athlete" to avoid paying worker's compensation, it's not an unreasonable concern for people engaged in physical risky behavior for the school's pecuniary benefit.
Health insurance is an absolute bare minimum, and it's shameful the NCAA hasn't found a way to do this already. It's great news, in this era of concussion awareness especially, that colleges are going to do more for player health and safety.
Allowing student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility to complete their undergraduate degree without cost
This hasn't been a major issue but it would be great to see Slive and company be proactive on this one. An athlete gives you four or five good years on the field of play, you owe it to him or her to make sure that the athlete can get those last credits needed for a degree. One of the big selling points of a college recruiter is the degree, a former athlete should get that degree even if their athletic eligibility expires.
Ending the cold war against agents and advisers so that players testing the professional waters can receive better information
I made this point in my piece about entering the draft: players are making their biggest professional decision almost entirely blind and without ethical guidance. Having an agent who can give a player personalized advice about whether to turn pro would be a godsend, and likely keep kids in school who have no business turning pro. A good agent, and I know not all agents are good, will tell his clients the positives and negatives of each of his options. Too many guys are turning pro early, and they need a pro to tell them they can likely make more money by staying in school and improving their draft stock.
Harnessing the demands of sports so that student-athletes get more balance in their lives -- i.e., another crack at the "20-hour rule"
Honestly, this is entirely about the Northwestern decision, in which the judge ruled that an athlete spent more time being an athlete than a student. Limiting an athlete's practice time makes him look less like an employee and more like a student, and keeps the NCAA out of future legal hot water. Not everything has to be about the players, though. I fully support a bureaucracy putting in some systems in place for some proverbial ass covering. You need to be able to tell a judge with a straight face that athletes are primarily students, and a reformed 20 hour rule would certainly help with that.
More and better assistance for academically at-risk student-athletes
Again, these athletes are supposed to be students first. If you're selling the value of an education, make sure they get educated. Look, I freely admit I don't really care much about scandals involving paying players under the table, but I do care about academic scandals. Most of these guys aren't going to be playing in the NFL or even if they are, they won't be set for life. You need an education. I fully support any proposal to get athletes more academic assistance, so long as it is assistance and not "doing the work for them".
Giving student-athletes a role and a vote in NCAA governance that affects them
This is a total no-brainer. Athletes don't need the deciding voice, but they at least need a place at the table. Disenfranchisement is inherently wrong.
So... will any of these reforms actually happen? Well, if Slive and his fellow administrators wants them to, then yes. And that is the key question. Is this just a PR scam to get the feds off of the NCAA's back, or is this an actual commitment to reform?
The formation of a new subdivision is a very real step to changing college sports down to its DNA. One of the biggest roadblocks to reform is that the membership of Division 1 is just too disparate. The equity conferences, and I do like that term, can't deal with any issue confronting big time sports until the NCAA reorganizes itself.