Big Five conferences granted autonomy

On Thursday, Aug. 7, the NCAA granted autonomy, by a 16-2 vote, to its five richest conferences: the ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC, collectively called the “Big Five” or “Power Five” conferences. In addition, Notre Dame was granted autonomy, making the autonomy ruling effective for a total of 65 athletic programs.

The autonomy ruling gives the schools the authority to make their own rules in 11 different areas. Among the areas that the 65 schools are expected to focus on include financial aid, career pursuits unrelated to athletics and insurance and career transition.

Using their new flexibility, the 65 schools plan on offering better benefits for student-athletes, including full cost-of-attendance stipends, four-year scholarship guarantees, looser restrictions involving player and agent contact, allowing students to make money through outside career opportunities and allowing universities to help pay for injury insurance. The schools also plan to offer more benefits to the families of athletes, like paying for tickets, travel and parking for families to see their student-athletes play in postseason games.

USC was ahead of the curve in offering multi-year scholarships, as the school announced over the summer that this policy would be implemented in order to provide more security to student-athletes in football and men’s and women’s basketball.

When the NCAA mandated unlimited meals for student-athletes effective Aug. 1, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden vowed to set aside more than $1 million on an “enhanced fueling plan” in another move that demonstrated  his commitment to the welfare of student-athletes.

The other seven areas USC and the other 64 athletic programs can make their own rules in are health and wellness, athletic personnel, academic support, time demands, meals and nutrition, pre-enrollment expenses and support and recruiting restrictions.

Though the Power Five have been granted a large amount of autonomy, the NCAA will remain the enforcer of on-field play rules, transfer policies and signing day protocol. In addition, while student-athletes will likely see better benefits, student-athletes will still not be allowed to negotiate compensation with their university and conferences in the Power Five can’t offer more scholarships than other NCAA Division I conferences.

In addition to making their own rules, the Power Five will also have their own committee to vote on autonomy issues. Each of the 65 schools will have one representative, with the other 15 members (three from each conference) being current players.

Conferences not included in the Power Five are allowed to adopt similar rules, but most schools wouldn’t be able to afford them. For example, the Pac-12 racked up $334 million in revenue during the last fiscal year. During the same fiscal year, the Sun Belt Conference (comprising schools such as Arkansas State, Idaho and New Mexico State) brought in only $16.6 million in revenue, which would make it nearly impossible for the conference to offer perks like full cost-of-attendance stipends and four-year guaranteed scholarships like the Pac-12.

The Power Five can submit legislation by Oct. 1 and have it enacted at the 2015 NCAA convention in January.  The measure will be sent back to the NCAA board of directors for further consideration if 75 schools not included in the autonomy ruling vote against it within 60 days, but NCAA Board Chairman Nathan Hatch, said he is “very confident that it will not be overridden.”

Haden said he is very happy about the NCAA granting autonomy because it allows for more benefits to student athletes, a cause for which he has long advocated.

“I’ve been arguing that we need to do more for these kids for years, and this is just the first step,” Haden told USC’s Ripsit blog. “It is great for student-athletes at USC. Some of the things that we have done already with the four-year scholarships and the new meal policy we have, we’ll just continue to do as much as we are allowed to do.”