When the NCAA Division I Board of Governors meets on Thursday, the biggest agenda item will be the adoption of the new governance structure that includes new committee members, reweighted voting, and autonomy for five conferences. But it also includes this critical piece of the push to reform Division I while keeping Division I more or less intact:
The Board will be asked to sponsor legislation that will guarantee members access to national championships (including the play-in structure in certain championships, sizes of championship fields and the number and ratio of automatic qualifying conferences) at least at the level provided as of August 1, 2014.
What does this mean?
Currently championship access is guaranteed by NCAA Bylaw 4.01.2.3. That bylaw is part of the NCAA’s constitution and includes this language:
Members are guaranteed access to national championships (including the play-in structure in certain championships, sizes of championship fields and the number and ratio of automatic qualifying conferences) at least at the level provided as of January 9, 1996.
The championship access guarantee has not been updated since 1996. That means the bylaws and sport committee decisions adopted since then which have expanded championships and provided more access are not guaranteed by the NCAA constitution. They can be changed by a majority vote of the relevant group.
This proposal, a significant but under-the-radar portion of the governance overhaul, would lock those gains in. What it is designed to do is to ensure that every Division I conference has access to all the championships for which it qualifies for an automatic bid. After the passage of this proposal it would become more difficult to cut the number of automatic bids, radically change automatic qualification requirements, or establish additional play-in rounds for automatic qualifiers.
But on the flip side, it also protects the major conferences by ensuring at-large access. In men’s basketball for instance, the minimum number of at-large bids is set by an NCAA bylaw at 34. After passage of the revision to Bylaw 4.01.2.3, it would be harder to, for instance, roll back the tournament to 64 teams by eliminating either at-large or automatic qualification spots.