Outside of the ongoing O'Bannon lawsuit (and, perhaps, the National Labor Review Board's decision regarding Northwestern's appeal of the Northwestern football team's unionization status), there's no decision likely to have more of an impact on the future of college sports than the NCAA's vote today to grant "autonomy" to the Power 5 conferences (Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, Pac-12, and ACC). The NCAA Division I Board of Directors passed the model by a 16-2 vote, although that's not quite the end of the process:
Over the next two months, Division I schools have a chance to veto the new model. At least 75 schools would [have] to vote for an override to require the board to reconsider, and 125 schools are needed to suspend the change until the board meets to reconsider.
There aren't expected to be very many veto votes. In the lead-up to the vote today, the powerbrokers in the Power 5 conferences made it clear that if the autonomy vote didn't pass, that they would likely consider more drastic measures -- such as fully breaking away from the rest of Division I, a move which would cripple the NCAA Basketball Tournament, an ultra-lucrative event that essentially helps dozens (if not hundreds) of smaller schools stay afloat, athletically speaking.
So what does granting "autonomy" to the Power 5 conferences mean? Basically, they're now free to pass rules that apply to themselves. If other conferences also want to adopt those rules, that's fine -- but they're not required to do so. Prior to today, all rules applied to every school in Division I; Ohio State had to play by the exact same rules as Hofstra. Several Power 5 decision-makers argued that this didn't make much sense and, well, here we are.
What are some of the changes that could be coming to Power 5 schools as a result of this decision? In the short term, probably nothing truly seismic, like direct compensation of athletes. That issue cuts to the heart of amateurism and the NCAA itself; the Power 5 conferences aren't going to be able to blaze new territory in that area. Not yet at least. Things like college athletes pursuing sponsorship opportunities seem to operate in more of a gray area, but I wouldn't expect to see changes there in the near future, either.
In the short term, one area that is expected to be addressed is the "full cost of attendance" issue, whereby schools would have the ability to offer student-athletes more financial aid to cover expenses outside of tuition and fees, room, board, and books required for courses. Expect to see a proposal to address that issue on the table relatively soon. There are several other areas where the Power 5 schools are expected to weigh in with the powers newly granted to them. The New York Times has a nice interactive with greater detail about these areas, but in short:
- Limits placed on the number of noncoaching personnel that athletic departments are allowed to use (i.e., SEC schools probably won't be allowed to have 30 "recruiting assistants")
- Allowing universities to cover insurance-related expenses for student-athletes and also enabling student-athletes to interact with agents and advisers while still in college
- Granting students the ability to make money from career pursuits unrelated to athletics (remember the Minnesota wrestler who lost his eligibility because he sold a song?)
- Permitting schools to spend more on "pre-enrollment expenses" (i.e., parents accompanying recruits on official visits or costs tied to summer course attendance)
- Letting schools cover travel and ticket expenses for friends and family members of student-athletes
- Giving schools the ability to offer better medical coverage and health insurance