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NCAA Votes To Give New Autonomy To Big Conferences

Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz (left) discusses the NCAA structure Thursday, as Wright State University President David R. Hopkins looks on. The NCAA Board of Directors approved a package of historic reforms Thursday that will give the nation's five biggest conferences the ability to unilaterally change some of the basic rules governing college sports.

Elite college sports conferences can set their own rules about sharing profits with student-athletes and other matters, under a new policy adopted by the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors on Thursday.

The new rules would allow the most powerful athletic conferences to offer enhanced benefits to student-athletes, a move that would likely include boosting scholarships to match students' actual costs of living and improving health care benefits — a particular area of concern with violent sports such as football.

The conferences in question are the Pac-12, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference.

Efforts to enact some of the changes stalled in recent years, in part because smaller colleges and conferences said they wouldn't be able to match the perks their more moneyed peers could offer.

From ESPN:

"Key early issues are expected to include full cost-of-attendance stipends worth up to $5,000 per player; four-year scholarship guarantees; loosened rules involving contact between players and agents as well as outside career pursuits for players; and travel allowances for players' families to attend postseason games."

The change comes as college sports generate billions of dollars in revenue, much of it through lucrative television contracts between conferences and networks.

As Reuters notes, "The NCAA, which does not allow students to earn money for their athletic performance, has been sued by former and current athletes in U.S. court demanding a share of profits that includes tens of billions in guaranteed television money."

Student-athletes would be represented on a panel that would set policies for the 65 colleges in the five conferences.

This morning, NPR's Tom Goldman detailed how the changes might work:

"Following the vote, there will be a 60-day period for all 351 Division I schools to weigh in. If at least 75 of the schools ask for the vote to be overridden, the board has to reconsider and perhaps tweak the plan. If at least 125 schools want an override, the plan will be suspended.

"Supporters of the proposal say it will let them enact changes that are long overdue. The 65 schools ... sometimes have felt constricted by the current structure, in which smaller Division I schools and conferences can band together and prevent legislation from passing."

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