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Pac-12 presidents' letter reveals stance on NCAA reforms

Published May 21, 2014 4:58 pm

College athletics • Utah A.D. Chris Hill says school backs plan: "We have to do right by our student-athletes."
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As the structure of NCAA athletics changes, the presidents of Pac-12 universities want other conferences to know where they stand.

Late Tuesday, the Associated Press obtained a copy of a letter, signed by the Pac-12 presidents, that outlines their support for the NCAA's proposal to give the country's five most influential conferences more autonomy and their vision for the changes they'd like to see in college sports.

Among the big issues the leaders threw their weight behind: full cost-of-attendance stipends, medical and insurance assistance, and more emphasis on the academics of student-athletes, according to the AP.

The letter represents the Pac-12 settling into its trenches for upcoming debates on the direction of college athletics. The NCAA is beset by lawsuits and campaigns that could dramatically change the scope of its power, and pressure is mounting for the governing body of college sports to grant more amenities for the athletes who generate billions of dollars in revenue for their universities.

The NCAA released a new governance model in April that, if approved in August, would grant the "Power Five" conferences — Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC — more control of their own guidelines. But there is a concern among mid-majors and other universities that the Power Five could gradually become a power unto themselves almost wholy split from the NCAA.

The "Power Five" conference generate more revenue, especially in television profits, and the Pac-12 presidents' letter reflects their desire to spend more to meet athletes' needs.

One of the biggest and potentially most pressing issues is full cost-of-attendance stipends, which would boost athletes' scholarship money to help cover incidental expenses, such as laundry, travel from home, and other costs that currently come out of the pockets of the athletes or their families.

Other stances covered in the letter include the presidents' desire to see more athlete involvement in high levels of NCAA governance, the abolishment of euphemistic "voluntary" practices, allowing athletes limited contact with agents and other advisors when considering professional careers, and "liberizing" transfer rules.

Utah athletic director Chris Hill recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that his department is lobbying for a number of increased student-athlete benefits. Some of those include increased stipends, more medical assistance, and guaranteeing scholarships until athletes earn a bachelor's degree.

Hill said the new NCAA model was the talk of this week's Pac-12 meetings.

"It's the whole thing about getting control of our own destiny," Hill said. "We think we can do right by our student-athletes in a way that's more in line with our resources. We want to figure out the best way to provide that assistance."

The proposed benefits cost money. A recent NCAA rule change allowing schools to provide unlimited meals to athletes will cost schools $750,000 a year, according to a Bay Area Newsgroup report. Hill confirmed the estimate.

Hill went on to project that if the Power Five enable full-cost-of-attendance stipends, it would cost the U. a maximum of $1 million annually, depending on how much the university is able to provide. While Utah will get a financial boost from becoming a full-fledged member of the Pac-12 this year — a cool $18 million in estimated revenue — the funding for those measures will likely require some belt-tightening.

"We're fortunate to have the money to be able to consider some of this stuff," Hill said. "We're talking about how these things will fit into our budget. We might have to make some reasonable adjustments in some areas, but at the end of the day, we have to do right by our student-athletes."

As of Wednesday afternoon, Utah president David Pershing and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had not returned calls seeking comment.

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon