The NCAA is setting the stage for a dramatic restructuring of college sports that will give each of its three divisions the power to govern itself.
Approval of a new, streamlined constitution is expected in January with minimal consternation or conflict.
The next phase of the NCAA’s transformation figures to be more difficult: a reshaping of Division I that will tackle revenue distribution, how rules are made and enforced, access to the most-high profile and lucrative NCAA events — such as the men’s basketball tournament — and just how big the tent should be at the top of college sports.
“So those are the things that we’re really going to have to get to the granular spot, and some of those are going to be very difficult conversations to have,” said West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, who is the chairman of the Division I Council and a member of the committee that trimmed the bedrock constitution of the 115-year-old organization.
The cutting of NCAA red tape comes in a year that has brought a tempest of change to college sports. Athletes have more financial freedom than ever before. Conference realignment has swept through the most powerful leagues while also shuffling lineups deep into Division I. Meanwhile, the expansion of the College Football Playoff promises to bring yet another revenue windfall to those at the top of the NCAA food chain.
Changing the constitution is the first step in determining the NCAA’s ultimate role in the changing landscape.
“This constitution is not for today and tomorrow,” Lyons said. “It’s for 10 years from now, 20 years from now. What’s, potentially, the association going to look like?”
The rewritten constitution focuses more on the NCAA’s broad goals of athlete welfare and athletics as part of an academic experience instead of governing procedures and operations, both of which have come under increasing criticism.
The proposal specifically notes that athletes should be allowed to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness — something in place only since July — but stands fast on barring schools from paying athletes to play.
The document still needs to go to membership for feedback after next week’s constitutional convention, and it could be amended before it is put before the full membership for a vote in January.
Emmert called the constitutional convention in August, not long after the U.S. Supreme Court hammered the NCAA in a ruling that left the association vulnerable to further legal challenges and in need of deregulation.
It quickly became apparent a new constitution was merely the first part of transforming the NCAA in a way that de-emphasizes the Indianapolis-based association and gives more power to schools and conferences.
“Once we got into this, we really found out that many of the issues were at the Division I level,” Lyons said.
The goal is to have changes in place in less than a year. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio University athletic director Julie Cromer will lead the Division I Transformation Committee. Lyons also is a member.
“There’s a huge gap in Division I, with schools roughly with $175 million budgets and schools with $4 million budgets,” Lyons said. “A lot of times we’ve tried to legislate from an equality standpoint. Is there possibly a new division? Is there a Division IV? Do some schools break away and make a Division IV, and what is the membership requirement?”
The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an organization of former and current college administrators, backs a restructuring of Division I that would include moving major college football out from under the NCAA umbrella.
The Bowl Subdivision of Division I is 130 schools that have access to the College Football Playoff, which brings in nearly $500 million annually that is controlled by conferences, not the NCAA. The Knight Commission recently proposed a revenue-sharing model that it believes would curb the athletics arms race at the top of Division I and better support educational goals.
Knight Commission CEO Amy Perko said the newly proposed NCAA constitution is a good start toward reform.
“There’s a lot still clearly to be defined about Division I and how the governance will work and how the revenue distribution will work,” Perko said. “The encouraging part is that the constitution does require the commitment to all of those core principles that define the educational model.”
The new constitution calls for shrinking the NCAA’s highest governing body, the Board of Governors, from 21 members to nine and include for the first time a recently graduated athlete. The board’s duties would be narrowed to only matters that impact the entire association at the highest levels, such as budgets, strategic planning and evaluation of the NCAA president.
The proposed constitution also locks in the current revenue distribution percentage to Division II (4.37%) and Division III (3.18%), which should help it garner support from the majority of the NCAA’s member schools. The NCAA has 1,100 member schools, 351 that compete in Division I, and some 500,000 athletes overall.