NCAA reforms could create chasm between Utah, BYU and USU (video)
The difference between the power programs in college athletics and the have-nots is about to get more clear-cut than ever before.
The power balance of the NCAA has shifted after the board of directors of college sports' governing body voted 16-2 in favor of a new structure that will give more influence to the 65 schools in the "Power 5" conferences of Division I: ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 the latter includes the University of Utah.
Under the reforms, the NCAA's Power 5 the upper crust in terms of wealth and popularity will wield twice as much voting power as any group in a newly formed council that will handle the bulk of legislation of college sports. Those schools will also have a limited ability to pass rules to govern themselves, which is likely to include issues from cost-of-attendance stipends to increased medical coverage for student-athletes.
Locally, the state's three major universities could see significant competitive gaps. The U. is the only in-state program in a Power 5 conference, while Brigham Young University is a football independent and Utah State University resides in the Mountain West Conference.
Bottom line: Utah and other big schools would be able to dedicate more funds to their student-athletes than the smaller schools which would give them an advantage in recruiting and, consequently, on the field.
The non-power schools could elect to match these benefits or risk falling further behind.
The new structure is the result of the Power 5 lobbying for more power to use its schools' considerable resources. The decision was welcomed by NCAA President Mark Emmert as a needed adjustment in college sports.
"The new governance model represents a compromise on all sides that will better serve our members and, most importantly, our student-athletes," Emmert said. "These changes will help all our schools better support the young people who come to college to play sports while earning a degree."
In other circles, skepticism reigns. Smaller schools particularly those schools that comprise the rest of the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision will likely have to stretch their budgets to keep up with the heavyweights, sparking concern that the new NCAA structure could be harmful to competitive balance.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is one of the observers who had questions about the NCAA's Thursday action, warning that a congressional review may be warranted. He fears non-power conference schools such as BYU and USU could be harmed by the reforms.
"The NCAA should be responsible for promoting fair competition among its participating institutions and their student-athletes," Hatch said in a statement. "I am concerned that today's action could create an uneven playing field that may prevent some institutions from being able to compete fairly with other schools that have superior resources to pay for student-athletes,"
USA Today recently reported the Power 5 conferences will split up an approximate baseline of $250 million annually in the next 12 years of the new College Football Playoff television contract, while the other five conference are expected to split up $75 million.
Autonomy gives the Power 5 the ability to spend more on student-athletes: For example, one issue likely to come up for a vote soon is a cost-of-attendance increase to student-athlete stipends, which would give them more money for incidental costs housing, travel, laundry, etc. associated with going to college.
The Power 5 have griped in the past that the NCAA's rules have not evolved at the same pace as college sports, which have skyrocketed in popularity and earning power in the past 15 years. Utah officials, most notably athletic director Chris Hill, have been vocal supporters of NCAA change for some time.
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham called it a necessary step for progress, citing cost-of-attendance stipends as one of the key issues he'd like to see addressed.
"It's a step in the right direction and it was inevitable," he said. "I don't think there's any way it wasn't going to happen. What happens going forward, there's still some unanswered questions, but for me it was expected, and we'll see how things progress from here."
The Power 5 schools will have until Oct. 1 to determine which issues they want to preside over, and the wish list must be approved by the board of directors by a 60 percent vote.
Once the scope of autonomy is established; new rules on those issues would be voted on by an 80-member body with a representative from each of the 65 schools and three student-athletes from each conference.
The Power 5 also will hold 37.5 percent of the voting power in the larger NCAA council, compared to 18.5 percent for other five FBS conferences. The remaining non-football-playing schools, a group of 226 schools in Division I, comprise 37.5 percent of the vote, with athletes and faculty accounting for the rest.
BYU and Utah State officials have also called Power 5 autonomy necessary, but have stressed some caution in limiting the power those schools are allowed. Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said Thursday he's concerned some programs are angling to offer more "for the sake of themselves" and skewing the amateur model of college sports.
"It's moving much more toward professionalism than amateurism," he said. "I have mixed feelings. I wish I could say this is all for the student-athlete, but that's not how I feel."
With the proposed reforms hanging in the air for the past few months, those schools have also started counting up pennies to see where they might be able to match the Power 5. Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes told the Salt Lake Tribune last week that the Aggies have set up a task force to study if they can offer cost-of-attendance stipends.
"We need to improve the dollars [student-athletes] receive in some areas, with health benefits and things such as that," he said. "We're not sure where we'll land, but we feel like it could be a step in the right direction."
Those outside of the Power 5 acknowledge it could be tougher to compete, but ultimately they'll do what they can to keep the playing field level.
That appears to be the plan at BYU, which is independent in football but is a member of the non-power West Coast Conference in most other sports.
"We have been following the proposed changes to the NCAA governance structure for months and anticipated it would pass the board of directors," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a statement. "At this point it's hard to speculate about the ramifications to college athletics, but we'll continue to monitor the issues and prepare to make changes as necessary to remain competitive."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.