INDIANAPOLIS — NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday that providing a stipend to student-athletes seems less threatening to the schools that earlier knocked down a proposal to increase the value of a scholarship to cover the full cost of attendance.
"It seems to be a much less controversial notion today than it was 18 months ago," Emmert said of the stipend proposal. "As we've talked about it more and the membership has had a chance to digest it, it's being seen as less threatening."
Emmert spoke at the American Football Coaches Association luncheon just ahead of the NCAA convention, which begins this week in San Diego. Members plan to discuss changes in the way legislation is passed, including giving the five most powerful conferences the ability to create their own rules. At the top of the list for the wealthiest conferences is freedom to provide a stipend to all athletes.
The idea being considered now would be to create permissive legislation so that each school can choose whether it wants to provide a stipend that covers cost of attendance, Emmert said.
Emmert's prepared remarks to the coaches focused mainly on safety issues. The NCAA is facing several lawsuits brought by former football players that claim the organization and its members did not do enough to educate players about the long-term risks of concussions.
The NCAA now has a chief medical officer, a neurologist who was appointed by Emmert.
Emmert told coaches that participation in football is declining among boys, though that is in part to competition from other sports and inactivity tied to an online culture. Still, he said it is up to the people who make their living on the football to assure parents that the game is safer than ever.
"We have to find ways to continue to bring young men into the sport of football and convince parents, especially moms, that this is a safe sport," he said. "And we have to convince them because it's true. That we're doing everything we can to make this sport safe."
Emmert told reporters the NCAA is working with researchers all over the world on concussion and head injuries.
"To make sure that when decisions are made they're based on real science and best practices, not rumor and innuendo and fear," he said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban in a presentation he made later in the day said coaches need to do a better job of delivering positive messages about football.
"I'm for player safety, No. 1," he said. "We have to find a better way to teach and do that. But we also have to promote our game."
The AFCA convention opened with a session called "The Future of Football: A Dose of Reality with Mack Brown." The former Texas coach was joined by Sandi Chapman, the founder and chief director of The Center for Brain Health.
Chapman pushed back against some of the fears that football is becoming too dangerous because of the long-term effects of repeated head injuries.
"The benefits of youth football to health and well-being far, far exceed the risk of brain injury," she said.
The AFCA and the American College of Sports Medicine endorsed USA Football's Heads Up Football program Monday. The program was created by USA Football to help educate youth coaches on tackling techniques, CDC-approved player safety protocols and proper ways to use and wear protective equipment.