Big Changes Ahead for NCAA: Autonomy for Big 5 Conferences

In August of this year, the NCAA Board of Directors approved more autonomy for the Big 5 Conferences in a 16-2 vote. The Big 5, consisting of the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and PAC 12, now has the power to change the landscape of collegiate athletics. These conferences have the ability to vote on and enact new rules to govern themselves. To enact a new rule, the rule must be approved by (a) 60% of the 80 voters from each conference, including 3 student representatives from each school, plus a majority of schools within 3 out of 5 of the conferences, or (b) a majority of all voters plus a 4 out of 5 majority from the schools in those conferences. Any school is welcome to follow the new rules enacted by the Big 5, though budgetary restrictions may prevent them from being able to do so.

The Big 5 are expected to tackle various issues because of their enhanced autonomy, including whether to increase athlete stipends and offer medical benefits to student-athletes. NCAA President Mark Emmert says the measure will better support student-athletes. Skeptics of the change fear that the new system will only exaggerate the gap between the wealthy schools and institutions with less financial means. “College athletes have been putting tremendous pressure on NCAA sports to eliminate unjust policies, and this vote demonstrates how much power players have when they stand up against this system,” said Ramogi Huma, the Executive Director of the National College Players Association.

The rule changes follow a series of lawsuits against the NCAA. Judge Claudia Wilken of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit presided over the Ed O’Bannon anti-trust lawsuit, which found that limits on collegiate athletes’ compensation “unreasonably restrains trade.” Judge Wilken granted an injunction that, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, will allow for full compensation to football and basketball student-athletes as well as a system of deferred compensation for their images and likenesses. The NCAA plans to appeal this decision. Hopefully, the new Big 5 autonomy will find the appropriate balance between collegiate sports and athletes’ rights.

            The Big 5 decision will be finalized in October and substantial rule changes can be expected around 18 months from now. These changes will go into effect in 2016.

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