NCAA Governance Proposal Needs Changes to Give Everyone What They Want

VotingDennis Dodd of CBS Sports:

Some Big Five commissioners and other stakeholders were initially surprised at the NCAA’s super majority concept. The association’s board of directors asserted Thursday that the 65 Big Five schools will have to pass legislation with at least a super majority (at least two-thirds in favor). In addition, four of the five conferences would have to pass legislation.

“We think,” [Big Ten commissioner Jim] Delany said, “that’s too high a bar.”

It is a high bar, but it makes sense in the current proposal for two reasons.

First, the pitch for autonomy to the public and the rest of the membership was that these 65 schools were not just different from everyone else but similar in their resources and legislative goals. Autonomy was sold as a way for these schools, which allegedly had a broad consensus on a limited number of issues related to using their greater resources to provide more for student-athletes, to avoid being restricted by the disparate interests of the rest of Division I. In arguing for a lower standard like even a simple majority, the power schools are undermining one of their arguments for autonomy.

Second, the way autonomy developed changed from the power conferences making rules just for themselves to the power conferences having control over a portion of the legislative agenda and making rules for everybody. Even the “actionable” process, where the other 27 conferences would vote to decide whether to use rules adopted by the five conferences, now looks like a long shot to be included. If the governance proposal had to adopted today, all autonomy rules would be permissive. They would become Division I rules that apply to everyone. Under the Big Ten’s alternative autonomy process, 33 out of 350 schools spread across four of 32 conferences would be able to dictate legislation for all of Division I across a broad range of topics with no override and no way for 27 of those conferences to influence the legislation at all.

The smaller conferences have been less outspoken but Michael Cross writing at Ultimate Sport Insider likely captures their feeling regarding both more disproportionate voting weights and five conference autonomy:

Choosing ONE of the two options above is barely palatable but one can understand why it is being sought. Choosing both is gluttonous.

To use both models makes a mockery of any concept of NCAA shared governance (the upside is we can finally stop the “we are the NCAA” banalities) and creates a “go along to get along” model where everyone follows the dictates of the select few schools with high resources who will systematically impede the upward mobility of those who aspire to at the highest competitive levels. The choice should be between either expanded disproportional voting OR autonomy, not expanded disproportional voting AND autonomy.

One or the other likely would be more acceptable than both, but at this point autonomy is a foregone conclusion and the new voting weights are not that much different than the previous weights even if they tip the balance toward FBS and away from FCS/non-football schools. In addition, there is the issue of the rest of FBS not wanting to be lumped in with the smaller schools. To get everyone what they want, who is part of which autonomy group and how those groups adopt legislation needs to be changed from the current proposal.

1. Divide Division I between FBS and everyone else
Division I is already subdivided between FBS schools, FCS schools, and non-football schools. As Cross points out, further subdivision, even just in some legislation, further weakens the big tent of Division I. This would reinforce the subdivision between FBS schools and and the rest of Division I, but would not cut Division I into smaller parts. As for why the power conference schools might accept this, that will be addressed below.

2. Define autonomy as “autonomy”, not “control”.
On autonomous issues, FBS would vote on rules for FBS only. There would be no permissive rules, where adoption by a small group of institutions would mean adoption for everybody. Any rule adopted by FBS would be actionable by the other conferences and could be adopted by them at a subsequent meeting.

3. Use weighted voting with simpler procedures on FBS autonomy issues
Different voting weights from shared governance issues would be used on autonomy issues as well. Each power conference representative would have four votes. The other five conferences would nominate three athletes just like the power conferences. The Group of Five representatives and With 125 institutions and 30 athletes representatives, a simple majority would be all that is required to pass legislation. Conference-by-conference majorities would not be a factor.

Under this plan, this is how the voting blocks might look for 2014–15:

  • Power Conference Institutions: 65 representatives X four votes each = 260 votes
  • Power Conference Athletes: 15 representatives X one vote each = 15 votes
  • Power Conference Total: 275 votes
  • Group of Five Institutions: 60 representatives X one vote each = 60 votes
  • Group of Five Athletes: 15 representatives X one vote each = 15 votes
  • Group of Five Total: 75 votes
  • Institution Total: 320 votes
  • Athlete Total: 30 votes
  • Grand Total: 350 votes

A four-to-one voting weight was chosen so that if roughly two thirds of the power conference schools supported an issue (44 out of 65), it could be adopted over the objections of everyone else. Less than super-majority support among those institutions would require getting more Group of Five institutions and/or athletes on board.

4. Grant the other 22 conference the same autonomy
The other 22 conferences would have the same ability to pass legislation for themselves on the same topics as FBS. Voting procedures like weights, conference vs. institutional voting, athlete representation, and requirements to adopt legislation would be up to those conferences. Both FBS and the other 22 conferences would have similar requirements to hold an annual business session preceded by an open town hall meeting as in the current governance proposal. The proposal adopted by the other 22 conferences would also be actionable by FBS, just like FBS’s rules would be actionable for rest of Division I.

5. Give the power to change autonomy topics and approve processes to the Board of Directors
One of the main goals of the governance reform is to re-establish athletic director control of the day-to-day governance of the NCAA while still maintaining presidential oversight. The Council and institutional representatives would do the heavy lifting of adopting rules. But the Board of Directors would decide the processes for adopting rules. The board would be tasked with moving rules between shared governance and autonomy and would approve the process by which the two groups adopt rules. The 21 member Board in the new governance proposal would not give an outright majority to FBS to add rules to the autonomy list. FBS as a bloc would need the support one rep from the other conferences or one of the ex-parte members.

The power conferences get their autonomy, but only over which rules apply to FBS, not all of Division I. The Group of Five conferences get to come along, with the price being that the power conferences will have a significant voting advantage over them. Athletes gain additional representation. The smaller conferences are not forced to keep up with the Joneses, but have that option and also gain the ability to control their own destiny. Athletic directors and other administrators still do the bulk of the legislative work, but the presidents maintain significant oversight of the whole system.

Even if this system does not succeed in keeping Division I together long term (and it probably will not), it allows all of Division I a say in how and when that split occurs. With parallel, autonomous voting tracks, the Division I Manual will start to split into two rule books. But that was going to happen anyway. At least here that will be explicit, and the FCS and non-football schools will have the power to prepare for the coming split rather than being dragged along by the power conferences until they can no longer keep up.

Posted on by John Infante
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