NEW YORK — The five power conferences of college sports want more flexibility in providing financial support to athletes.
A major reason they lack that freedom in the first place is other NCAA members have feared widening the wealthiest programs’ competitive advantage. Now NCAA President Mark Emmert and the leaders of those behemoth leagues must convince schools with fewer resources that giving them greater autonomy is in the best interest of college athletics.
“What’s really hard in these kinds of things is for people to vote themselves less political authority,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday. “They don’t do that. That’s not a natural thing to do.”
NCAA leaders are exploring ways to alter their governing structure, which would allow the colleges that can afford it to pay for certain expenses currently prohibited. That includes offering a stipend for the costs of attending school not covered by scholarships.
Emmert told reporters at the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum that members are “cautiously optimistic” an acceptable plan can be devised. Then again, he was confident two years ago that a Division I-wide stipend proposal would be approved. Instead, it stalled — partly because programs with less money worried it would force them to choose between unaffordable costs and falling further behind their richer rivals.
There are 340 schools in Division I, and only 120 of them are in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Just 65 will be in the five power conferences.
As commissioner of the Sun Belt, Karl Benson leads an FBS league that lacks an automatic BCS bid. He supports greater autonomy for those five as long as there’s proper oversight and believes a change will come, though it won’t be very dramatic.
The non-FBS conferences “have mobilized, and rightfully so,” Benson said. “I think everyone wants to protect their turf and wants to protect their future.”