In an effort to restructure the Division I legislative system, the NCAA Board of Directors has endorsed a proposal that would give more power to schools in the five largest conferences in the NCAA.

The endorsement was presented as Northwestern University’s 76 voting eligible scholarship members of the football team prepared to participate in a historic election to determine whether to form the first union in the history of college athletics. In response to the unionizing effort, NCAA President Mark Emmert has suggested that changes within the NCAA will address some of the issues raised by those backing and advocating that the players vote for creating a football players union at Northwestern University.

The 57-page NCAA draft proposal calls for a substantial empowering of the 65 school members of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. It includes more autonomy for these conferences to implement their own rules and to have increased voting power on legislation that would affect every NCAA member school.

Details of the plan propose allowing the Big Five conferences to independently address issues in areas known as “permissive legislation.” This category includes several increasingly hot button issues for NCAA athletes, such as:

  • continuing education and medical care;
  • expanded insurance coverage, including policies that protect future earnings;
  • increased academic support, particularly for at-risk student-athletes;
  • compensation for expenses associated with practices and competition; and
  • other support, such as free travel for family members and free tickets to athletics events.

According to the plan, the Big Five conferences would have the ability to enact rules in the categories defined as “permissive legislation” with a two-thirds majority vote; the other Division I conferences or schools could determine whether to adopt the rules, as well.

Other categories in the proposal, known as “actionable legislation,” were tabled for discussion and include more complicated issues, such as:

  • lessening time demands on athletes;
  • allowing athletes to pursue careers other than their sport; and
  • imposing new limitations in the areas of recruiting and staff size.

This move signals the beginning of a shift in power to the Big Five conferences. However, the Chair of the NCAA Board and NCAA Steering Committee, Nathan Hatch, emphasized that more discussion on the proposal will take place in the coming months.

“The model we sent to the membership today is not a final product,” said Hatch, who is also the current President of Wake Forest University. “Some aspects of the model remain under discussion, and we hope the membership will provide us further input.”

Hatch added that the steering committee plans to meet again in July to solidify a final proposal. A formal vote on the recommendations is tentatively scheduled for the board’s August meeting. If it passes, the transition could begin this fall.