The NCAA Board of Directors voted on Thursday to grant autonomy to the five major FBS conferences in a sweeping reform of the association's governance structure.
The move gives schools in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC unprecedented power in the often slow-moving NCAA bureaucracy, allowing the school to quickly pass legislation applicable to the 65 universities in those conferences. Several athletic directors and conference commissioners have stated that this is the best way for the richest programs to provide more benefits to their athletes after television revenue has increased substantially over the past decade.
Proponents of granting autonomy to the so-called "Power Five" conferences, including SEC commissioner Mike Slive, believe it's a major win for those leagues and their ability to navigate an increasingly rocky landscape in college athletics. Critics from smaller schools think it will only accelerate the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
"Today's vote marks a significant step into a brighter future for Division I athletics," said Nathan Hatch, board chair and Wake Forest University president, who also chaired the steering committee that redesigned the structure. "We hope this decision not only will allow us to focus more intently on the well-being of our student-athletes but also preserve the tradition of Division I as a diverse and inclusive group of schools competing together on college athletics' biggest stage."
Either way you look at the issue, major programs like Alabama, Texas, Ohio State and USC are not set to dictate the future inside the NCAA structure immediately.
Over the next 60 days, Division I schools -- all 351 of them -- have the opportunity to submit a veto on the autonomy proposal. Only 75 need to submit a veto to send the proposal back for review. If 125 of them send vetoes, the legislation would be dead. However, most of the power brokers in college athletics are confident that all will proceed according to plan, even dropping hints of a breakaway or new Division IV if it does not pass.
The autonomy proposal will likely go into effect for the 2015 legislative cycle, but could go into effect as early as October. In it, the power conferences -- along with 15 votes coming from student-athlete representatives from each league -- would hold a grand total of 80 votes. To approve a proposal, 48 votes (60 percent) and majority support from three of the five conferences would be needed. There could also be a simple majority of 41 votes (51 percent) if four of the five conferences support the measure.
Many expect this to be an avenue for major schools to provide the full cost of attendance to athletes and guarantee four-year scholarships, among other things. Not to be left behind, smaller conferences, in what is termed the "Group of Five" -- including the American Athletic and the Mountain West conferences -- will also be able to opt-in to such legislation but would not be required to do so.
Thursday's vote was a landmark step for the NCAA and, by association, college football.