NOTE: I originally wrote that as a football independent we were not represented in the new Power 5 autonomy process. The Notre Dame Sports Information Department reached out to correct this significant misperception - as a member of the ACC for non-football sports, we do in fact have a seat at the table for voting and debate.
Last Saturday, the NCAA held its annual convention. The convention was notable both for the first time a new voting structure focused on the Power 5 conferences was used, and for what was approved as a result of that vote. Under old administrative rules, each NCAA member institution at a particular level, like Division I, had one vote in the overall regulation of that sport. While admirable from a democratic perspective, it afforded the bottom end of the Division I spectrum an outsized effect on legislation as compared to their competitiveness and financial health. With 65 FBS schools in the Power 5 conferences and 60 outside those conferences, this was a significant issue.
There are good arguments for and against giving more autonomy to the Power 5 conferences on regulations, but on balance it seems to be a good thing. Nothing here relates to shutting non-Power 5 teams out; rather, the focus is on easing restrictions that theoretically ensured Alabama and Florida Atlantic were on level footing. Or Ohio State and Kent State. Or USC and San Diego State. Which, I mean, come on... Under the new voting structure, each of the 65 Power 5 conference members plus three current student-athletes from each conference have a vote, for 80 votes total. This new voting body can set regulations for the Power 5 that are then optional for non-Power 5 teams; any rule that would apply a mandate to the entire group of member institutions would have to be approved by the full group, not the Power 5 group. In essence, it's limited autonomy to "fix" what the Power 5 sees as significant issues.
It's worth pointing out that the 15 student-athletes are no mere throw-ins - according to reports, they often led debate and even introduced legislation. According to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, "I would say, going forward, if you're interested in your proposal having a good chance of passing, you need to bring [the student-athlete representatives] into the construction of the proposal process. Their voice is even more powerful than their number." We'll touch on them again in some of the more legislation-specific passages below.
Many at concerned about the Power 5 schools bulldozing everyone else, but those schools are less cohesive and collusive than people tend to think. This seems on paper like there are some difficulties that will appear and have to be worked out over time, but on the whole it should bring about some significant improvements in the arcane NCAA by-laws. Let's take a look at the biggest of the first batch of changes to come about as a result of this new process.
Full Cost of Attendance Scholarships
This is easily the biggest news to come out of the convention, and a measure that most larger schools supported and smaller schools fought for a long time. Previously, NCAA rules allowed for an athletic scholarship to cover tuition, room, board, books, and fees; now, schools will be able to offer "full cost of attendance" scholarships, basically to cover tuition, room, board, books, fees, and other additional expenses that the average student incurs by attending that school. "Additional expenses" is a vague term, but it's typically considered to include transportation to and from school, supplies, quarter dogs at LaFortune. You know, the usual.
At first glance that might seem ripe for abuse, but the term "cost of attendance" is neither arbitrary nor specific to student-athletes - each school's financial aid office already maintains a cost of attendance number for the student body, and that's what would apply to the athletes. Any significant deviation would have to be documented for the US government. The number will vary from school to school, of course, but it generally should be somewhere in the $4,000 to $5,000 per year range. This is a major boon for any school that recruits nationally, like Notre Dame, as recruits from more unfortunate circumstances who might not be able to afford to travel home over break would now be able to.
The measure was passed by a vote of 79-1, with Boston College as the lone dissenter on the grounds of fiscal responsibility. Their argument is reasonable, but I still think this is a net positive and something the kids deserved. Perhaps the next Shabazz Napier can finally afford to order some Papa John's when the urge hits.
Guarantee of Four-Year Scholarships
The next provision isn't strictly a guarantee of a four-year scholarship, but rather a guarantee that the annual scholarship will not be revoked for athletic reasons - basically, you can't cut kids anymore. All Power 5 schools will be required to follow this rule. Sorry, Nicky. I'm sure he (and others) will still find a way to run people off, but outright cutting is no longer an option. The main argument against this was that it removes an important motivational tool for the coach who has a kid with a bad attitude, but that really only holds up if you completely dismiss the idea that the kid is there for an education. I realize many fans and schools have dismissed that already, but that doesn't make it okay.
This was a very close vote - I can't find an exact tally anywhere, but I keep seeing it described as "narrow" - with SEC schools arguing against it, as you might expect, as well as Big 12 schools. Interestingly, five of the 15 student-athletes voted against it, presumably for the added difficulty it would lend to motivation. I thought they would unanimously support it, so that's very surprising to me. Also, it's worth noting that the Big Ten, Pac 12, and Big 12 had all committed to offering four-year scholarships, not one-year renewable scholarships, while the ACC and SEC to date have not.
Requirement for Documented Concussion Protocols
All schools will now be required to document their concussion response protocols and submit that documentation to a national concussion safety committee that will determine if the protocol is appropriate. According to reports, some of the most contentious debate at the convention centered on different proposals to address the issue of concussions. Oklahoma football player Ty Darlington introduced a stricter proposal than what ultimately passed, and the student-athletes argued passionately in its favor. The proposal that did go through is from the SEC, and several people felt that it left too much control in coaches' hands to determine when an athlete is ready for competition; for example, Texas AD Steve Patterson said he didn't like the proposal because medical staff should have "unchallenged authority" to pull a kid out of competition.
Despite the debate, the measure passed resoundingly, 64-16; our guess is that enough of those who disliked it felt that it was at least a worthy starting point on a thorny issue. Expect the debate to continue and potential future legislation to appear around it.
Loss of Value Insurance
The final biggie was a provision to allow players to borrow against future earnings to purchase loss-of-value insurance. This is a key element in some top prospects' decisions to go pro or return to school - they'd like to come back, but the potential decrease in or complete loss of a potential pro contract due to injury affects their decision. As the rules currently stand a school can purchase loss-of-value insurance on a student-athlete's behalf, but not all schools are willing or able to do that in every case. This measure was widely seen as a common-sense question, as evidenced by the unanimous vote that enacted it.