Athletic directors would take control of the NCAA’s day-to-day operations under a new plan presented to the organization’s Board of Directors.

Calling for athletic directors to be “essential leaders of the new governance system,” the plan attempts to shift the power structure of the NCAA from university presidents to athletic directors. Currently, the Board of Directors is made up exclusively of university presidents. Under the proposed plan, athletic directors would have an increased amount of access and representation at the NCAA’s decision-making level.

Purdue Athletic Director Morgan Burke and Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden were in Indianapolis to present the plan on behalf of Division I athletic directors. A document containing the general scope of the plan is available at Yahoo Sports (

While athletic directors would play a leading role in the proposed system, university presidents would continue to focus on “broad policies, approving budgets, selecting the CEO, and selecting experienced ADs for the governance system.” The current Board of Directors includes university presidents from all 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and the addition of athletic directors would mean the selection of a similarly representative group.

At the heart of the proposal is a demand that the NCAA’s governance structure be “simple” and feature “fair, timely, and efficient compliance and enforcement standards and practices.” Such language is telling at a time when the NCAA’s compliance and enforcement mechanisms face growing criticisms.

Mishandled NCAA investigations (notably, at the University of Miami) have raised questions about the clarity of the NCAA’s bylaws as well as the efficiency of their enforcement. The NCAA also has been charged with lacking transparent procedures and sanctioning member universities in an inconsistent manner.

Even if the Board declines to act on the plan, it has become clear that the level of frustration with the current governance structure has reached a tipping point. The athletic directors’ proposal is just the latest contribution to an ongoing debate over who is best to govern intercollegiate athletics. In the wake of increased conference realignment and the formation of more consolidated and powerful conferences, some feel that conference commissioners should lead.

However, the athletic directors’ plan “supports” Division I as currently set up and recent speculation about the formation of a “superdivision” consisting of the nation’s big-time football programs has been shot down by the NCAA.

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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.