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.





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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.