It’s autonomy time!

Over at the NCAA yesterday, they were a-passin’ this and they were a-passin’ that.

Full cost of attendance passed on a 79-1 vote from the panel comprised of 15 student-athletes — a historic event in its own right — and the 65 schools of the football-driven leagues.

Boston College cast the lone dissenting vote, according to NCAA tabulations.

Stipends, determined by institutions under federally created guidelines, have been estimated at $2,000 to $4,000 annually. They are designed to cover the cost-of-living expenses that fall outside athletic scholarships.

Group of Five and other non-football playing Division I conferences can opt to enact the proposals passed Saturday as early as next fall.

Other approved measures establish a concussion safety protocol and a discretionary student-athlete assistance fund, allow for student-athletes to borrow against potential future earnings to purchase loss-of-value insurance and prevent schools from removing scholarships based on athletic performance.

If that sounds like an awful lot for an organization that’s been notoriously constipated on the “of course, we’re all about the student-athlete experience here” front, you’re right.  But losing antitrust lawsuits and having to prepare to go hat in hand to the feds for help can prove to be quite the enema.  So if it seems to have a certain rushed feel to it, that’s only because it does.

What happens from here, though, isn’t as certain. The resolution adopted at the outset laid out priorities, including continuing medical support and insurance for athletes, as well as continuing academic opportunities after their college playing careers have ended. But those and other goals will cost money; many college officials are concerned about finding ways to pay for them. Collectively, Division I athletes could stand to gain at least $50 million in additional benefits, based on the number of schools involved and the minimum number of athletes expected to receive the scholarship increase.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said his school has added $2 million to the budget to pay for items including full cost-of-attendance scholarships and said he is concerned the increased costs might eventually lead schools to reduce resources for non-revenue sports, or even to cut them entirely.

“There are going to be some opportunities some athletes aren’t going to get on each campus,” Jacobs said. “What’s that going to mean? I don’t know how it’s going to happen. … What’s happening here today will transform football and college athletics. We just don’t know what the result is going to be yet.”

Translation:  we’re not sure who we’re going to screw over this, or if we can find enough money from ESPN to keep the pain to a minimum, but what the heck.

Are these folks astute business people or what?

And then of course there’s that whole messy democracy stuff.  Jim Delany doesn’t do democracy well.

And as the Power Five conferences get beyond the big-picture items, it might be more difficult to achieve consensus. The Power Five successfully deterred an attempt last spring to require a supermajority of two-thirds of total votes and four of five conferences for passage of proposals. Instead, autonomy legislation requires a simple majority if at least four conferences approve, or 60% if three of five conferences approve.

“It’s a high bar,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.

A proposal to guarantee scholarships prompted plenty of debate about whether coaches should be allowed to reduce or take away scholarships for athletic performance reasons. The proposal eventually passed, but just barely, with 50 votes and a majority of three conferences.

Delany suggested that tweaking the amendment process might be necessary in order to create compromise. Otherwise, he warned:

“I really think it’s going to be hard to hit that bar,” Delany said.

Ah well, he can always brow beat a few more lesser mortals if need be.  It’s gotten him this far.

As for the specifics that were approved, the fix was definitely in for the cost-of-attendance money and the concussion safety, because of the litigation threats out there.  The two that are interesting to me are the allowance for student-athletes to borrow against potential future earnings to buy loss-of-value insurance and the vote to prevent schools from removing scholarships based on athletic performance.  As for the former, the devil’s in the details:  who can student-athletes borrow from and under what terms are just a couple of questions here.  Lots of room for exploitation if this isn’t restricted properly.

But it’s the latter that’s particularly intriguing, first, because the vote was very close, passing by only three votes.  Two P5 conferences, the Big 12 and SEC, voted against it.  Second, it sounds like they got some cover for taking that position from student-athletes.

… Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said his mind was changed during a session Saturday morning with his SEC peers, and with three SEC athletes. He said he was prepared to vote for the adoption of a proposal to require four-year scholarships. It’s a popular proposal designed to provide security to athletes.

The SEC’s athlete representatives took issue with a clause that would prevent schools from taking away scholarships, or in the case of sports with partial scholarships, reducing the amount of aid, from athletes for athletic underperformance.

“The student-athletes said, ‘Don’t do that,'” Jacobs said. “They said, ‘Give them four years if you want, but … you can pull it away if the players aren’t performing.'”

… During the discussion forum later Saturday, athletes’ opinions on the proposal were divided.

“No one wants to unjustly take an athletic scholarship away,” Oklahoma center Ty Darlington said. “But this definitely restricts coaches. Coaches need to have the discretion to remove people from teams. There’s always the guy who didn’t fail a drug test, he’s not ineligible, he didn’t break a specific team rule, he’s always at every practice and meeting but his attitude is terrible and he needs to go.

“(The proposal) is so vague. It will end up tying the hands of coaches. … A vote against this is not a vote against student-athletes.”

Josh Tobias, a Florida baseball player, said guaranteed scholarships would “lead to players abusing this, because they have security.”

That’s certainly one side of the argument.  You can probably guess what’s on the other.

During the discussion period, UCLA linebacker Kene Orjioke was one of several who spoke in favor of the proposal.

“I don’t believe that because a kid may not be as talented as you previously believed him to be, that you should take away the (financial aid),” Orjioke said. “Why are you gong to take away the opportunity to earn a degree because he’s not playing well?”

Or to put an even finer point on it,

“How can we say that we put the student aspect of a student-athlete first,” Northwestern soccer player Nandi Mehta said, “when we’re going to inhibit a student-athletes’ ability to get an education based on athletic performance?”

North Carolina State athletic director and former basketball coach Debbie Yow said all coaches make mistakes in recruiting.

“That is no reason to take their scholarship,” Yow said.

Getting snottier than that, if having security means that some will become less motivated to do their best, why should there be guaranteed multi-year contracts for coaches (or athletic directors)?

Human psychology is hard.  If it weren’t, college coaches wouldn’t be paid as much as they are.  But trying to figure out where the fine line falls between removing a team cancer and routine Sabanesque roster management is an impossible task for anyone on the outside looking in.  And even with that in mind, it’s not as if a coach has his hands tied completely – the rule doesn’t require participation, merely that once a kid has a four-year scholarship, it can’t be arbitrarily yanked.

No doubt any rule has the potential for abuse, but when you consider who wields most of the power in a relationship between school and student-athlete, who do you think can do the lion’s share of abusing?


Filed under The NCAA

2 responses to “It’s autonomy time!

  1. sectionzalum

    concern over player disincentive, from a gator no less. hat bs.
    ah, preserving tradition.


  2. I believe it’s foolish to make it black or white. A 4 year scholarship is great so guys like Saban can’t do roster management to make room for the latest and greatest but the SA should also have basic standards to meet(grades/conduct). I honestly don’t think a coach should be allowed to wine and dine a prospect and his family only to turn around and “process” him because he didn’t live up to his 4 or 5 star ranking. I see folks justifying this all the time but I just can’t. Once SAs get paid and this turns into a true farm system then sure.