A committee charged with envisioning a “transformation” of big-time college sports appears to have opted for an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach, recommending more benefits for athletes and more control for conferences and institutions over some of the more dramatic proposals it was purportedly considering.
The final report of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Transformation Committee, published Tuesday, proposes a raft of new benefits for athletes who compete in the association’s top level, including medical coverage for athletics-related injuries for two years after they graduate or stop playing, 10 years’ worth of funding to complete their degrees, and more mental health support. It also recommends raising the bar for colleges to join Division I and putting much more decision-making authority related to specific sports in the hands of new committees that would be made up of experts in those sports.
The committee opted not to throw its weight strongly and openly behind ideas that would be likely to prove most divisive, literally, by enabling the biggest and wealthiest programs to further separate themselves from less wealthy programs such as, for instance, calling for eliminating the caps on the number of scholarships that can be offered in sports like football. Some had speculated that the committee might recommend breaking Division I up into units that would allow the richest programs to govern themselves more directly. But it opted not to do that, at least formally, though some of the decentralization it proposes would move in that direction.
“We made a critical choice early on to maintain a ‘big tent’ approach for Division I,” Julie Cromer and Greg Sankey, the committee’s co-chairs, wrote in the report. Cromer is athletics director at Ohio University and Sankey is commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. “While the breadth and diversity of Division I presents challenges, it’s also a fundamental part of the magic that is college sports. In the Committee’s view—and in the view of most outside voices who joined us—breaking Division I apart would damage what is vital and essential about college sports.”
The committee’s report also makes the case that some of the more significant potential changes in big-time sports can’t be accomplished without help from Congress, specifically in the form of an antitrust exemption that could clear the way to colleges paying athletes over and above their scholarships.