There is no suggestion within the NCAA of blowing things up, and even the idea of splitting off the big-money BCS schools into their own division gets little traction.
But the leadership of the governing body for collegiate athletics has to become "more nimble, more strategic, appropriately representative," said Nathan Hatch, chair of the NCAA's board of directors.
"I do think it's a very important (time)," Hatch, the president at Wake Forest, said Wednesday after a two-day meeting on restructuring. "I do think there's some frustration with the current governance model, and there are inherent tensions between big schools and small schools and how representation is done. There is a sense the board, for a variety of reasons, has been too much involved in smaller matters, legislative issues and not high-level strategy.
"When you try to craft a board, you want it nimble, and you want it strategic so you can't have it too large," Hatch added. "So it may not be that we can have every constituent on the board. But one thing ... the board needs to find is a mechanism to be actively engaged with student-athletes, athletic directors, faculty groups, students, commissioners — the full range of constituents that comprise college athletics."
After getting input from nine different groups, including athletics directors, faculty, coaches' associations and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the board on Wednesday agreed on several key points:
- A more transparent, faster and simple governance process is needed.
- School presidents would continue to lead the division, with the board focusing more on overall strategy and vision and less on day-to-day operations.
- While there is a wish to maintain a single Division I, some schools should have the leeway to decide how best to support their athletes financially — a way to resolve the so-called stipend debate.
A seven-member committee established in August to oversee restructuring will now draft proposals, which will be presented to the full membership at the NCAA convention Jan. 15 to 18 in San Diego. Hatch said he hopes there will be a final plan by spring.
"If you look at where we were in the spring and where we are now, there's a lot more commonality now than there was six months ago because of these discussions," said Morgan Burke, Purdue's athletics director and the president of the 1A Athletic Directors' Association. "We still have a lot of work to do. Governance is a tricky thing whether it be in Washington, whether it be in Indy, whether it be in the U.N. If you go too fast, you can fracture this whole thing."
The NCAA, and President Mark Emmert in particular, have been the subject of harsh criticism for more than a year, for their handling of scandals at Penn State and Miami and the pay-for-play debate. The governing body is also facing lawsuits by former players over licensing that could cost millions. The most powerful conference commissioners have been among the most vocal critics, and, with a lucrative new playoff system beginning next year, there were fears the largest — and richest — schools could break off.
But the sentiment was quite the opposite as the various groups gathered in Indianapolis to discuss ways to restructure the NCAA, Hatch said.
"We haven't foreclosed any option. But I would say that there was a general agreement among the many people I talked to, and among the board itself, that we will try to stay together as a single division," Hatch said. "The interesting thing is how committed they are to the whole of Division I."
But athletics directors do want to have more of a say, particularly when it comes to policies that shape college athletics.
The presidents would still set the NCAA's "broad policies," approve budgets and choose the NCAA president, Burke said. But day-to-day policies, like rules for recruiting and officiating, are better left to athletics directors.
It's similar to the governance structure on every college campus.
"The presidents are clearly the final decision-makers, those are the people we report to. But (Purdue President) Mitch Daniels doesn't try to make operational decisions in athletics," Burke said. "I don't think they want to get into that level of detail, and I think that the system, over time and unintentionally, has sucked them down into the details like that."
Such a change could allow larger schools to finally be able to give their athletes so-called stipends.
The board has twice approved a rules change that would have allowed schools to give athletes money for expenses not covered by their scholarships — clothes, travel, meals out with their friends. But the full membership has overridden it, with some smaller schools saying they were not interested or did not have the money.
"I don't think anybody thinks there should be different football (playing) rules in the top six conferences or that there should be different scholarship limits in FBS. But there are certain areas where we think autonomy needs to be granted for a limited number of conferences," Burke said. "We want to look at the definition of grant-in-aid. ... There's been a recognition that we ought to do that, but as soon as you do that, it gets bogged down because 225 schools say they can't afford to do that."
"We have a lot in common," Burke added. "Our championship system in all sports works well. Our academic standards over the last 10 years are creating better results. But we still have some work to do."