NCAA power move raises questions, creates challenges for MAC [The Akron Beacon Journal :: ]
(Akron Beacon Journal (OH) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 08--No one knows whether the NCAA board of directors' vote on autonomy for the so-called power conferences will offer a ripple effect or a tsunami for the schools that are essentially ceding power to their athletic brethren.
The board voted Thursday in Indianapolis to allow college athletics' five power conferences -- the Big Ten, SEC, PAC-12, ACC and Big 12 -- to make decisions on cost-of-attendance money, player insurance issues and other issues, according to reports.
Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher addressed the issue recently at the group's media day in Detroit. At that time, he said he expected it would be adopted.
"This provides them with the ability to enact permissive legislation for all of Division I focused primarily in the area of student-athlete well-being," he said. "We are headed for a redefinition of grant-in-aid, so that it may include the full cost of attendance."
University of Akron Director of Athletics Tom Wistrcill said that the cost-of-attendance issue is a redefinition of a full scholarship. Currently defined as tuition, room and board and books, it could eventually be extended to other expenses associated with attending college. Think travel expenses, toiletries, etc.
Therein lies the rub. Several years ago, this debate raged in the form of "miscellaneous expenses" for athletes that would have provided a stipend for such items. Those power conferences were unable to sustain a vote that would have allowed such action.
Now it's a different ballgame.
"That's an issue we're struggling with and grappling with now," said Kent State University Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen.
The problem comes from the fact that not everyone's cost-of-attendance number is the same.
"The Kent States and the MAC schools are going to have to determine what their position is going to be," Nielsen said, "because that will directly impact our ability to recruit and our competitiveness to attract the best students with the most talent to our campus in all our sports, especially those we recruit head-to-head with the five resource-conference schools."
There is also no uniformity in developing those numbers. For example, using the College Board's online comparison tool produced a range of $20,473 to $23,505 among UA, Kent State and Ohio University based on tuition, room and board and books.
That's without other factors that could come into play with new rules from an 80-member power conference voting board created by Thursday's vote.
"The gaps in those could be drastic," Wistrcill said. "That's the unintended part that I don't think enough people are talking about."
UA football coach Terry Bowden isn't surprised by the planning that led up to Thursday's vote and the ultimate result.
"In my mind, that happened a long time ago," he said of the changes passed. "They've always had the power when it comes to setting bowls, setting postseason play, setting TV contracts. The Big Five have always had that power to determine scholarship amounts and things like that. I always believed that's the way it was going to go."
It's important for schools such as UA and Kent State to stay on the schedule of larger schools such as Ohio State and Penn State. It brings all involved a nice payday.
The only definite is that no one can predict what the net result will be. Unless this move is overturned -- which is unlikely because leaders of the Big Five schools such as Commissioner Mike Slive of the SEC implied they'd pull out of the NCAA -- changes via new rules can be made beginning Oct. 1.
Nielsen and Wistrcill agree that it's too early to make predictions.
"I'm going to take the wait-and-see attitude," Wistrcill said. "I've been around long enough to know that there are things that you don't think of in the midst of this that happen later. ... Let's hope most of them are positive."
Is it a bold new world or just evolution? The fact remains that all of college athletics has begun a process that puts their future in the hands of a few. Steinbrecher had some advice for such an occasion on MAC Media Day.
"With the ability to enact specific legislative areas, under the rubric of autonomy," he said, "the five higher resource conferences have a vast responsibility to preserve the collegiate model and do what is right for student-athletes and what is right for higher education. We need to hold them to that."
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.
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