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Leadership Council Proposes Only Small Governance Changes

After seeing what coaches had to say about possible governance changes, athletic directors who had been some of the most vocal drivers for major reform might have been expected to some up with something equally groundbreaking. But the NCAA Division I Leadership Council, which has the most ADs of any group in Division I, followed the emerging trend away from a new division or even subdivision toward minor tweaks and ensuring a few substantive measures make it through.

The NCAA’s release on the meeting starts with what the Leadership Council does not want:

There was a considerable amount of agreement between the members of the council, who represent all three subdivisions and a wide range of job responsibilities and resource levels in Division I. The desire to keep the division intact without further subdivision was prevalent.

Almost everyone agrees that health and safety and the student-athlete experience — through access to championships and other opportunities — should continue to be priorities. Most members have a strong desire to preserve the division’s current academic standards, each sport’s scholarship limits and the revenue distribution model.

So all the major issues that would have split Division I are not on the table, at least for this group. Which is not surprising given that the most important subdivision has already occurred in football. Even the revenue distribution model in the NCAA is already heavily weighted toward power conferences, reducing yet another reason for splitting or leaving the NCAA.

So what does the Leadership Council want? Like most of the complaining about governance over the past two years, it starts with a stipend:

Many believe that student-athlete benefits, including a change in the definition of a full athletics scholarship to include the full cost of attendance, could be an area of compromise. The majority of council members also agree that more autonomy could be provided in meals, student-athlete development — including academic support — and personnel limits.

The flaw in the original stipend proposal might not have been the proposal itself but how it was imposed. The Board of Directors attempted to push through a compromise proposal but failed. With more time and a lighter touch, scholarships might rise more than $2,000 to the full cost of attendance.

Like coaches associations, the Leadership Council focused more on pet project substantive changes and less on the mechanics of governance. But they did hint at one change which could significantly alter the Division I structure:

To support their position, council members repeatedly cited the success of smaller, more focused groups like those formed to create new recruiting models for men’s and women’s basketball and football. Members tout the benefits of using people from all related groups that have an intimate knowledge of a subject, study an issue for a period of time, ask feedback from the membership through surveys and conferences, and then come forward with recommendations for change. The group had different ideas about how to build a structure that would produce similar successes.

As easy as it may be to mock the NCAA for creating yet another task force, working group, or blue-ribbon commission to fix a problem, the fact is they generally come up with good ideas. The inefficiency and confusion comes when their efforts are duplicated by the Division I cabinets who are often studying the same issues and when conferences offer legislation targeted more at pain points than systemic changes.

More diverse Legislative and Leadership Councils, closer working relationships with coaches associations, and a series of ad-hoc task forces might make the standing cabinets unnecessary. That runs the risk of creating a larger disconnect between practitioners and the governance structure when there is not some crisis to be solved. An alternative would be for the cabinets (also with revamped membership) to work more closely or even at the direction of the two councils. Left unaffected would be the Division I committees, which are still needed to handle appeals and set guidelines for individual cases.

But when the people who stand to benefit most from a split of the big money schools into a new association, division, or subdivision oppose the idea, it is not going to happen at this time. Division I is simply still too good of a deal for most major programs to take on the additional work and risk of creating something new even within the NCAA structure. While other groups may push for more significant changes, the Leadership Council appears to be a stabilizing force in these discussion and will have one of the best seats at the table to apply that pressure.

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