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NCAA to vote on autonomy

Big conferences may get to make their own rules

The NCAA board of directors will vote today on a proposal that would give the five wealthiest college football conferences the ability to make rules and pass legislation without the approval of the rest of Division I schools.

The autonomy proposal is expected to pass. Here’s what you need to know about it:

Q. What do the big conferences want?

A. The 65 schools in Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference would get the ability to pass permissive legislation to “enhance the well-being of student-athletes.” They want to be allowed to spend their growing revenues on things such as scholarships that cover the full cost of attending college beyond tuition, room and board and books. Those conferences also want to invest more in long-term health care and continuing education and ensure that athletes retain scholarships for four years. Schools in the 27 other Division I conferences can try to do some of those things if they want, but they will not be required to.

“I think we’ve gotten to a place where we just believe there was a need for us to perhaps be a little less egalitarian, a little less magnanimous about the 350 schools and spend a little time worrying about the most severe issues that are troubling our programs among the 65,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday during a forum in New York hosted by the conference.

Q. Why do those conferences need autonomy to do that?

A. In the past, schools in conferences that don’t have the billions of dollars in TV revenues that the so-called Big Five have stood in the way of the NCAA passing legislation that would have provide some of those extra benefits to athletes. Specifically, in 2011 a proposal that would have allowed schools to give athletes a $2,000 stipend to cover cost of attendance was overridden by about half of the 355 Division I schools.

Q. Will other conferences try to do what the Big Five want to do?

A. The leaders of the other five conferences that play at the highest level of college football, FBS, have all said their members are prepared to do their best to provide the same additional benefits to student-athletes. Some schools, such as those in the American Athletic Conference or Mountain West, are probably better situated to spend more on athletes than others, such as those in the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference. But they’ll try.

“Will there be greater additional costs? More than likely,” Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said. “And yes, there will be challenges, but Sun Belt universities have invested too much not to be part of major college football in the future.”

There is concern that schools trying to keep up with the Big Five in revenue sports such as football and men’s basketball might not have enough money to fund non-revenue Olympic sports.

Q. Why is this likely to pass?

A. Because the Big Five generate millions in revenue for all NCAA members, and while the leaders of those conferences have repeatedly said they don’t want to break away from the rest of Division I, they have also made clear it is an option. So they’ll get what they want.

Q. When would it go into effect?

A. The formal start would be in January at the NCAA convention.

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