How the NCAA plans to change

Shoring up the levee prior to Hurricane Katrina could have prevented the massive flooding that devastated New Orleans. 

Determined to not make mistakes similar to those made in Louisiana, the NCAA more than three years ago began down a path toward transformation. Now, even amidst rising waters, we are nearing the end of extensive work to shore up our governance structure, and soon we will provide better support for student-athletes.

On Friday, the Northwestern University football team will vote on unionizing.  Regardless of the outcome of this vote and its potential ramifications, the NCAA must act now. 

Admittedly, the wheels of progress have turned too slowly. 

Now, even amidst rising waters, we are nearing the end of extensive work to shore up our governance structure, and soon we will provide better support for student-athletes.

The NCAA is a deliberative body with more than 1,100 member institutions. In Division I, we have 340 diverse colleges and universities with athletic budgets anywhere from $5 million to $150 million. About two dozen of these Division I schools have athletic programs that can stand on their own financially. Yet we are united in our commitment to improving college sports for our student-athletes. 

As part of that commitment, the NCAA will take an important vote this month. On Thursday when the Division I board will endorse a new governance structure, that should help address many of the current student-athletes’ concerns. 

First, we will give greater autonomy to the higher-resourced conferences. These universities will be able to independently determine at what level they can provide resources to benefit students in the following ways:

  • Cover the full cost of attendance by providing a stipend for incidental expenses.

  • Provide better academic and career counseling.

  • Insure student-athletes against career-ending injuries.

  • Improve medical monitoring during their playing days.

  • Enable student-athletes to finish their degrees even after their playing days are over.

  • Provide enhanced well-being benefits including meals and nutrition.

Second, student-athletes, along with faculty and staff who have their best interests at heart, will have a seat at the table under the new governance structure. 

The Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee chair, an athletics director who will chair a new group tentatively called the Council, a faculty athletics representative and a senior woman administrator would each get one vote on the Division I board of directors. This will be the first time their voices will be heard alongside the university presidents who currently serve on the division’s highest body.

Our plan is to allow weighted voting on the Council, the group charged with making rule changes for the division. No group will have a majority. Five conferences – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC – will each receive four votes or 38.7 percent. The Division I Football Bowl Subdivision will be split in two with five conferences – the American, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt – each receiving two votes or 19.4 percent. The remaining 22 conferences will have one vote each totaling 38.7 percent. One commissioner from each of the two FBS groups and two commissioners from the remaining 22 conferences will also have votes and are represented within these percentages.

Most importantly, two student-athletes will vote on the Council, with their votes each counting once.

These efforts have been in the works for some time but have not materialized fast enough to stave off the challenges identified by student-athletes. Their concerns deserve to be heard and the NCAA is the appropriate place for them to be addressed. 

As a member of the Division I board of directors, I am hopeful that an initial vote on this new structure will be seen as a good faith effort to change the way we do business.  We want to be responsive to our student-athletes. 

It is important to improve the model of collegiate athletics that has helped millions of student-athletes have a rewarding college experience, one that will benefit them for a lifetime.  This new Division I governance structure will be paramount to this effort.  Moving forward will help to shore up college athletics for many years to come.  

University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides is a member of the NCAA Division I executive committee.