Imagine a college sports world where schools are able to offer every baseball player a full scholarship. Or if a football team’s on-field coaching staff could exceed 25 people.
What if the transfer portal was only open to players three months a year? What if the recruiting schedule didn’t have assessments or quiet periods?
There is a real possibility that these ideas will become more than just concepts.
The Transformation Committee, a group of high-ranking university leaders tasked with overhauling and modernizing NCAA governance, is considering groundbreaking changes that some administrators call “radical.” At a briefing with athletic administrators this week in Dallas, committee leaders revealed ideas for deregulating longstanding NCAA regulations and decentralizing those decisions to the conferences.
“It’s going to blow heads,” says a sports director.
The Transformation Committee decided to share the concepts in an apparent effort to prepare directors for impending change that is even more transformative than many expected. And many officials believe Tuesday night’s announcement that NCAA President Mark Emmert plans to step down next June is a first step in what will be a new NCAA, with transformation starting at the very top.
Several athletic administrators and college sports insiders discussed transfer committee concepts on condition of anonymity. They include (1) eliminating scholarship caps for sports that only offer partial scholarships; (2) abolish the limitation on the number of coaches per team; (3) expand direct payments from schools to athletes; (4) reconfiguring the recruitment schedule; and (5) implement closed periods in the NCAA Transfer Portal. At least the first three points will be left in the decision-making hands of the individual conferences, if the concepts are approved.
Although these are only concepts and not approved measures, the ideas are disseminated throughout the college athletic landscape, both at conference-wide meetings and at administrative summits such as the one in Dallas. hosted by LEAD1, an organization that represents FBS athletic directors. The articles will be central topics at league meetings next month, when coaches, athletic administrators and college presidents gather to discuss national legislation and the conference. (Any recommendations will likely need to be approved by the NCAA Division I Board and Board of Governors before they become official.)
“Change is coming,” said another athletic director present for the committee’s three-hour presentation Monday in Dallas. “We better get ready. We shouldn’t be shocked if any of this happens.
Several members of the 21-person Transformation Committee declined to comment or did not respond to messages when contacted by Sports Illustrated.
The committee’s ideas on deregulation met with opposition from a wide range of administrators. Moves to remove restrictions on equivalency scholarships and coaching positions threaten to further widen the gap between wealthy programs and those with fewer resources, some say.
“Every AD G5 is like, ‘Holy—!'” says a Group 5 sporting director who attended the presentation.
Chasms already exist within DI, the NCAA’s top tier made up of 350 schools with disparate missions and varied resources, all scattered across a massive geographic footprint and different cultural lines.
This diverse dynamic, along with a myriad of other factors – the NCAA’s loss in the Supreme Court case against Alston and the emergence of name, image and likeness (NIL) laws in the statewide – sparked intense and unprecedented change in the 116-year-olds. association.
The Transformation Committee, chaired by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio Athletic Director Julie Cromer, was tasked by Emmert and an executive group of school presidents to rewrite DI policies by August. Now some believe the process will stretch into the fall.
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The concepts are only a small part of a series of changes that the committee should recommend. The group appears to be tackling rules deregulation first before exploring several other topics, including the infringement process, automatic tournament qualifiers, and revenue distribution units. Sources tell SI that committee members have also looked at the employment of varsity athletes but have not yet produced any recommendations on the matter.
The concepts rattled some of the best officials in college sports, but they were somewhat predictable. An SI story in January detailed the impending changes, in part due to lucrative football powers insisting they can spend more of their resources on their athletes.
If concepts are any indication, expending handcuffs seems to be off. They would eliminate NCAA regulations that attempt to legislate competitive fairness and cut costly expenses — measures that have failed in a college sports industry booming on football money.
“It doesn’t work in the collegiate model,” says a Power 5 AD. “It works professionally. There are drafts and salary caps.
Perhaps equally important, the measures would abolish policies to help mitigate the risk of litigation. For years, the NCAA has fought a plethora of legal challenges to its amateurish rules, and the Supreme Court this summer slammed the organization with a 9-0 loss in the Alston case that sparked a decentralization of its rules for fear of new antitrust lawsuits. .
By sending the policy decisions to the leagues, the association gets out of a contentious situation but also craters its own authority, opening the door for the football kings of the SEC and Big Ten to swell with more money and power.
Now they can decide for themselves on key legislation that will inflate spending and further divide the haves and have-nots.
“The gap will continue to widen,” says a G5 associate sporting director. “What does it look like in a year? We had an arms race for facilities, an arms race for recruitment and now NIL is its own arms race. That’s crazy.
The purse expansion would be a historic decision, but it would not impact sports like soccer and basketball, known as “many-man” sports. They offer full scholarships to a list of players: 85 in football and 15 in basketball. The concept concerns sports offering partial scholarships, known as “equivalence” sports, such as baseball, hockey, athletics and swimming. For example, the NCAA’s maximum allowed scholarships in baseball is 11.7 for a 35 roster, a figure often criticized by top baseball schools in wealthy conferences that want to spend more. As part of the transformation plan, a school could potentially offer 35 full scholarships in sports.
Lifting the “accounting coach” rules would also be unprecedented, as NCAA rules currently restrict the number of coaches per sport. For example, a football team can have no more than 11 coaches (one head coach and 10 assistants) and a basketball team no more than four (one head coach and three assistants). Other staff, such as analysts and consultants, are considered non-accounting staff who are not supposed to coach players – a rule that is often circumvented, if not completely broken, in many programs.
Restrictions on athletes’ “compensation, benefits and rewards” are another area where changes are coming, according to a Transformation Committee slide shown to athletic directors and obtained by SI. That could include an extension of the $5,980 checks that many athletes are receiving following the NCAA’s loss in the Alston case. Schools are allowed to provide education-related benefits of such an amount. Some programs, like Ole Miss, distribute checks to athletes who meet a not-so-difficult criterion: remain eligible.
The Transformation Committee is also exploring ways to bring the regulations to the transfer portal, which is open year-round. The portal is full of athletes using the single transfer exception to leave their school and immediately play elsewhere. The lack of a regulated structure causes list management problems that lead college leaders to consider abolishing the annual signing limit of 25 people. Some have suggested concepts that keep the portal closed except for two five-week periods, one after the end of the fall semester and another after the spring semester.
Concepts are also being discussed around simplifying the recruiting schedule, potentially eliminating some regulations and replacing dead, quiet, assessment, and recruiting periods with two windows: a recruiting period and a dead period. More coaches and staff – beyond the 11 on the pitch for football, for example – could also recruit off-campus.
The concepts, if implemented, could come at a significant cost, especially the expansion of stock exchanges. If one conference allows it, will others feel compelled to do the same? Some may not be able to afford the expense. Coaching scholarships and salaries are two of schools’ top four expenses each year. According to data from the Knight Commission, approximately 37% of an average FBS school’s budget is spent on paying coaches and supporting student athletics.
Title IX requirements could also complicate matters. Schools are required by law to spend the same on women’s sports as they do on men’s sports. If scholarships are extended to baseball, a school should do the same in a women’s sport.
And if decisions are left to leagues with different financial capabilities and missions, that’s a troubling prospect for some. Conferences must avoid the appearance of collusion by determining policy on their own without communicating with each other, further splintering an already fractured college sports landscape. Leagues could literally play by different rules.
Decentralization and deregulation, along with the rise of million-dollar NIL collectives, are likely to accelerate what Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick recently described to SI as a complete split in the NCAA over the next decade.
“It’s been working like this for years,” said a Power 5 AD who agreed with Swarbrick. “It doesn’t go the other way. This gap is not closing.
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