NCAA panel recommends more benefits for DI college athletes, sport-specific governance

Dive Brief: 

  • An NCAA panel charged with reforming the highest level of college sports released a slew of recommendations this week that would create more sport-by-sport governance over Division I and require colleges to give more benefits to their student-athletes. 
  • In its 48-page report, the Division I Transformation Committee proposed a batch of new benefits for college athletes. They include bolstered mental health services, at least two years of medical coverage post-college if they sustain injuries, and funds for them to complete their degrees up to 10 years after they leave college without completing a credential. 
  • The committee also recommended focusing more on sport-by-sport governance by creating new committees with sport-specific experts. But members stopped short of agreeing with calls to break up DI sports to separate the most well-heeled programs from those that are less wealthy. 

Dive Insight: 

The committee — whose members include college presidents, athletics directors and conference commissioners — spent the last year considering potential changes to Division I athletics. The report notes that the recommendations are coming during a moment of tremendous upheaval to college sports, partly due to a patchwork of state laws regulating if and how student-athletes can be compensated for their names, images and likenesses. 

It also addresses recent calls to divide Division I sports, which is composed of roughly 350 colleges with vastly different resources. Some officials in Division I, including former Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, have advocated for more control over the rules governing their conferences. 

Officials within the Power Five — the highest-earning football conferences, which include the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference — are largely driving the effort. 

While they want more power over how they can spend their earnings, other college administrators have been concerned that dividing Division I sports would upset a revenue distribution model that helps support smaller institutions, Sports Illustrated reported

Transformation committee members resisted that approach, arguing that the “breadth and diversity” of Division I is critical to college athletics. 

“Breaking Division I apart would damage what is vital and essential about college sports,” Julie Cromer and Greg Sankey, co-chairs of the transformation committee, wrote in the report. “So long as their universities can meet minimum expectations in terms of the support they provide, ultimately, we want as many student-athletes as possible to start each season with Division I national championship dreams.” 

The Division I Board of Directors will review the report’s recommendations before the NCAA’s conference next week in Texas. 

However, the report noted that some changes to college athletics are in the hands of congressional lawmakers. That includes NIL issues and whether college athletes can be considered employees. 

“There’s no question that finding fair, sustainable and equitable resolutions to each issue will be essential to Division I’s future,” the report states. “We simply need a clear, stable framework under which to address them.” 

The report says that the NCAA has created a Board of Governors Subcommittee on Congressional Engagement to work with lawmakers on these issues.

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