A year ago at the NCAA convention, cost of attendance dominated the attention during the first time Power Five conferences could create their own rules. The issue needed to be addressed, given ongoing litigation against the NCAA and conferences. The ACC, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten made a push to create a new NCAA governance system in large part to get cost of attendance passed.
Now what for the Power Five? There’s not one hot-button topic like cost of attendance this year when the NCAA convention starts Wednesday in San Antonio. Still, these are some issues to keep an eye on this week:
Let athletes profit from non-athletic ventures. The Pac-12 announced Tuesday it has tabled its proposal to allow athletes to use their names, images and likenesses (NIL) to promote their own non-athletic business ventures. This proposal was by far the most controversial on this year’s agenda, even though there’s currently an NCAA waiver process that sort of allows this to happen already.
“While we continue to fully support this legislation as a way to ensure our student-athletes have the opportunity to participate in the full spectrum of campus life, we have decided to work with our student-athletes, universities, and peer conferences to develop legislation to be enacted as intended and move it forward as soon as possible,” the Pac-12 said in a statement.
The Pac-12 said the NCAA has agreed to process waivers expeditiously and grant them in a consistent manner with the rationale behind the proposal. “A better publicized waiver process will deliver on the key principle behind our original legislation: that student-athletes should be afforded similar opportunities to their campus peers as it relates to entrepreneurial aspirations,” the Pac-12 said.
The proposal had virtually no chance of passing at the convention. “It sounds good, but there are legitimate reasons why that won’t pass,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “It has no chance. I think it’s a really slippery slope. Affording latitude is one thing. Putting people in position to manipulate rules is another thing altogether. You could think of a whole bunch of ways that would get abused in a hurry. But it’s the kind of thing we ought to be talking about.”
So if this is the type of topic that needs to be discussed, why shouldn’t an athlete make money off his or her own name? “This year’s process is not the one we should do this,” Bowlsby said. “We shouldn’t have five autonomy conferences and five FBS conferences and 22 others piece-meal making inputs into the legislative process.”
Under the Pac-12′s NIL proposal, an athlete could not make money off his or her name if the business is considered to be “athletically related.” Examples of athletically-related business products listed by the NCAA: Sports and/or fitness equipment; fitness or workout apparel; sports video games/apps/websites; fitness or exercise videos/apps/websites; sports memorabilia (such as autograph sales); and a book about the player’s athletic career.
Also, in order to profit from this proposal, an athlete must own greater than 50 percent of his or her business. Boosters, agents and athletic department officials could purchase the services or products from the athlete at the same rate and manner as any potential customer. The university may not be involved in promoting the athlete’s business.
An athlete could receive discounts or special arrangements from suppliers, subcontractors and other vendors only if it’s demonstrated those benefits are generally available to others. This would fall into the NCAA’s current extra benefit rules.
“I think conceptually we’re supportive of (the NIL legislation),” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “This is probably being handled to a more significant degree than people realize through a current waiver process with the NCAA.”
How many waivers are submitted? How many get passed or denied? How long does the waiver process take? “I need to know a little more about how the waiver process is flowing,” Swofford said. “My impression is it’s going well. I’m not sure the legislation is needed.”
According to the Pac-12, over the past two years, the NCAA has approved 30 such waivers with more than a third of those being granted since the Pac-12 introduced the proposal. The Pac-12 statement didn’t say how many waiver requests are denied. The requests are reviewed first by the NCAA staff, and, if the school wishes to appeal a staff decision, by the Division I Committee for Legislative Relief.
“The intent of this proposal is in line with our efforts to do more for student-athletes,” NCAA executive vice president Oliver Luck said in a statement. “Student-athletes should be afforded similar opportunities to their campus peers as it relates to entrepreneurial aspirations. We will proactively educate the membership and student-athletes on the waiver opportunities and process, and will continue to grant appropriate waivers consistent with this principle in the coming year.”
As an example of the waiver process, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey cited Georgia football player Malcolm Mitchell being allowed to profit off a children’s book he wrote. “A waiver seems to be an appropriate way to manage the concerns right now,” Sankey said.
Changing football championship game rules. What once seemed like a foregone conclusion has met some resistance. Several years ago, the Big 12 and ACC proposed legislation to let conferences stage championship games without 12 teams and however they want. The Big Ten filed an amendment that would require 10-team conferences have divisions.
This week, the Big Ten submitted a second amendment. It would allow conferences with less than 12 teams and that play a round-robin schedule to pair their two best teams as opposed to division champions meeting. That obviously benefits the Big 12, which is the smallest FBS conference (10 members). Bowlsby said the second amendment was crafted after consultation with the Big Ten. “It gets us most of the way we need to go,” Bowlsby told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. “I’d prefer total deregulation but we can live with it.”
According to Bowlsby, deregulation could go into effect as soon as it is adopted on Wednesday with the NCAA Council, with Power Five conferences getting two votes each and the rest of the FBS conferences having one vote each. The answer to this issue could impact whether the Big 12 expands its membership. The Pac-12 wants the 10-member Big 12 to stage a championship game. The SEC said it will vote against the first two proposals, but appears open to the latest Big Ten amendment: allowing a 10-team conference with round-robin play to stage a championship.
Later NBA draft declaration deadline. The NCAA Council will also consider a proposal that pushes back the day when men’s basketball players must declare for the draft, and let them declare more than once in a college career. The declaration date is currently the first day before the spring National Letter of Intent signing period in mid-April. The new date would be 10 days after the NBA combine, which is typically in mid-May.
The proposal would also allow players to try out with different NBA teams and still return to school. The idea is to give basketball players more flexibility on making their pro decisions.
Agents for baseball players. This Big 12 proposal would finally let baseball prospects have an agent in the negotiating room with Major League Baseball teams — something that widely occurs now against NCAA rules. The NCAA’s “no agent” rule has severely impacted the eligibility of many college baseball players who have gotten caught with their allowable “advisers” negotiating with teams.
Under the proposal, players may not receive benefits other than representation from the agent or attorney and must pay the going rate for the representation in accordance with standard billing policies of the agency. If the high school or college player doesn’t sign a pro contract, he must terminate the agent prior to full-time college enrollment.
Swofford said the next step is to consider what works for agent contact in football and men’s basketball to “modernize what we’re doing.”
Allowing athletes more time off. One Pac-12 proposal would create a three-week discretionary period for athletes to have time off from practice and competition after their season. Athletes could continue to participate in voluntary workouts and attend postseason meetings, but they couldn’t be asked to follow a required athletic schedule. The idea is to let athletes become more engaged with academics and non-athletic interests.
Another Pac-12 proposal would prevent athletic-related activity during an eight-hour period between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The idea is to provide athletes with more time to study, sleep or engage with the campus community. There, are of course, exceptions to this proposed ban. Athletic activities could occur during these hours for a conference championship or NCAA championship; participation in any competition that begins before 9 p.m.; and participation in a promotional activity, such as Midnight Madness in basketball.
“At a philosophical level, they’re both great,” Bowlsby said of the proposals. “At a practical level, I’m not sure even the student-athletes would vote for that. I’m not sure either of them have the support to pass, but they’ll stimulate a lot of good debate.”
Giving athletes get access to buy tickets. Under this proposal, a college may arrange for an athlete to purchase tickets at face value for a postseason event involving his or her team. Waivers have previously been approved to allow this type of arrangement.
The idea is to give players’ families a better opportunity to attend postseason events beyond the six complimentary tickets. The NCAA said this is a “reasonable benefit that is incidental to the student-athletes’ participation.” Athletes would not be allowed to sell their tickets at a price above face value.
What’s next on the agenda? After adopting cost of attendance and creating a safety committee last year to review school’s concussion protocol, the Power Five clearly didn’t try to tackle some other pressing issues. For example, when will the NCAA require transitional healthcare for athletes’ sports-related injuries, as the Pac-12 currently does? When or if will the NCAA have rules attached to concussion guidelines and enforce penalties if a school violates their own protocol?
“The top issue on my mind is how we collaborate among the top five conferences in the autonomy grouping,” Sankey said. “It’s a new process.”
The Pac-12 and commissioner Larry Scott have a lot of proposals set for Wednesday’s convention. (USATSI)
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