With college sports in flux, NCAA set to overhaul itself

Jul 30, 2021, 12:45 AM | Updated: 3:09 pm

The NCAA Board of Governors on Friday called for a constitutional convention in November, the first step toward launching dramatic reform in how the sprawling, multibillion-dollar enterprise of college sports is governed for years to come.

In the wake of a stinging loss in the Supreme Court and radical changes to the way athletes can be compensated — and with College Football Playoff expansion and major conference realignment already in motion — the NCAA said it wants to “reimagine” how it manages the needs of its more than 450,000 athletes.

“The goal is to make sure that we can align authority and responsibilities, get that right between campuses and the conferences and the national level,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a brief teleconference with reporters.

That begins with examining the NCAA’s very foundation, a six-article constitution that lays out the association’s purpose, principles and general policies. Action on proposed changes is expected to be taken at the NCAA’s January convention.

“It’s evident we’re going take a hard look at the structure and governance of the association and have a discussion about values and a discussion of goals,” said Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, a member of the Division I Council. “We’ve talked about modernization of the rules, well, perhaps its time to modernize the association. So here we go.”

Why now?

“I think it’s really the shifting legal environment, the economic environment, the political environment, all of that, that creates this opportunity in a lot of ways to stop and erase the blackboard and draw a new chart again,” Emmert said. “And that’s a really, really powerful opportunity that can’t be wasted.”

A 22-person Constitution Review Committee with university presidents, conference commissioners, athletics directors and students from the more than 1,100 member schools in Divisions I, II and III will be created to redraft the constitution.

The committee will be appointed in August after each division nominates candidates.

“As the national landscape changes, college sports must also quickly adapt to become more responsive to the needs of college athletes and current member schools,” said Jack DeGioia, chair of the Board of Governors and president of Georgetown.

The NCAA does not have a track record of acting swiftly and its rulebooks have been ridiculed for years as being overly dense. Still, Steinbrecher called the timeline laid out by the board — six months from creation of committee to acting on its proposals — “aggressive.”

“That would be, by any measure for any organization, exceptionally quick work,” he said. “By the same token we’re not a dictatorship or an autocracy. We’re an association of member institutions. There needs to be a collective sense of urgency.”

Two weeks ago, Emmert made headlines when he said it was time to consider a decentralized and deregulated version of college sports that shifted power to conferences and campuses and away from the NCAA. The idea is a sea change for an organization formed 115 years ago that is part of the bedrock of collegiate athletics.

Some conference commissioners, most notably Greg Sankey of the Southeastern Conference, followed with similar statements and said they were ready to begin the process of taking on those tasks.

The willingness to discuss an overhaul of the NCAA comes about a month after the Supreme Court ruled against the organization in what was seen as a bombshell unanimous decision, upholding a lower court ruling in an antitrust case related to caps on education-related compensation.

The Supreme Court also threw open the door for more legal challenges to the NCAA’s rules. Legal experts and college sports observers immediately wondered if the NCAA would look at other approaches to governing college sports.

“I worry a lot about intercollegiate athletics, about whether it’s a sustainable proposition given some of the things that are happening,” said former University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who was a member of the NCAA Board of Directors and chairman of the BCS during his time leading the school. “The NCAA seems to be withdrawing from the field.”

Earlier this month, the NCAA lifted its long ban on college athletes earning money for endorsement and sponsorship deals. Athletes are already cashing in on their names, images and likenesses, but the NCAA is still hoping federal legislation will produce a national standard for all schools.

Some lawmakers want to go beyond NIL and reshape college sports more broadly through oversight and regulation.

“The schools need to come together and create an organizational structure and define the way the make governance decisions and what those processes are going to be quite independent of all of the external dynamics that are out there. Whether it’s political or legal or economic,” Emmert said. “They need to consider all of those things, But they need to decide what makes sense and how they can best oversee college sports.”


AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed.


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