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Questions and answers on NCAA reform

Will athletes get paid?

None of the college presidents who spoke Thursday at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis were advocating the popular pay-for-play proposal. Neither did NCAA president Mark Emmert. Instead, leaders from the power conference schools endorsed some form of a stipend to cover the full cost of attendance. A plan for a $2,000 annual athlete stipend — money that expands scholarship limits to cover living expenses beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees — was passed by the board in October 2011 but overridden two months later after smaller schools complained about the financial impact. It still might be a complicated area to address. Kansas State president Kirk Schulz noted that meeting the full cost of attendance at his school might be $2,000 but the equivalent at UCLA might be $3,500.

What other areas will the five conferences make a priority?

Athlete welfare. South Carolina president Harris Pastides advocated for a reduction in practice time so students could focus more on academics. UCLA chancellor Gene Block argued schools should be allowed to better counsel a player about professional prospects and be more accommodating to those who turn pro and later return to school. Improved health care coverage is another issue. Pastides acknowledged his school hired a former football player to help them "figure out where to go now" and what "student-athlete well-being really means."

So, what's the biggest change here?

The NCAA is acknowledging that in college sports, all is not equal. The Big Five conferences, with their lavish facilities and plush stadiums, have long been a class apart, and Thursday's vote makes that top-tier status official. The vote also effectively declares that the old rules that governed the powerhouse schools are out of date, and that the big conferences should be able to set their own guidelines. The vote is a nod to how much power the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world wield on the college sports landscape.

Will other conferences try to do what the Big Five want to do?

The leaders of the other five conferences that play at the highest level of football, Division I-A, have all said their members are prepared to do their best to provide the same additional benefits to athletes. Some schools, such as those in the American Athletic Conference or Mountain West, are probably better situated to spend more on athletes than others, such as those in the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference

Does everyone agree this is the right move?

No, critics contend it will create a wider gap between the haves and have-nots in college sports and some wonder whether it will impact Olympic sports and Title IX requirements.

Will fans notice a difference?

Maybe in the long-term some Division I-A schools will decide it's too expensive to compete at that level and drop down to Division I-AA. And it could be a step toward full separation between the Big Five and the rest of college athletics, but there is nothing to suggest that is imminent.

So, is this good for the athletes?

The Big Five argue that the athletes will now be better off. Critics say the changes amount to window dressing, and that the fundamental unfairness of college sports — the NCAA and its members profit off athletes, without giving them a fair share of the profits — remains unchanged.

College sports are already awash in money. Does this mean that the Big Five will spend even more?

Almost certainly. Early estimates say some schools could end up spending $5 million more per year on athletics. (Sports budgets at Big Five schools can already top $60 million.)

What does this mean for March Madness?

The games will go on. All of Division I — schools within the Big Five conferences and schools outside it — will continue to compete for the same championships.

Associated Press, New York Times

Questions and answers on NCAA reform 08/07/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2014 10:45pm]
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