Morning Sun

For NCAA, year of upheaval leads to need for transforma­tion

- By Ralph D. Russo

From court losses to political pressure to questions about how — and if — athletes should be compensate­d, the NCAA and college sports have faced all sorts of potential existentia­l threats for more than 100 years.

The difference in 2021 was volume. It was as if a century’s worth of issues fell on college sports all at once.

Lawmakers took aim at the NCAA, undercutti­ng its ability to govern. The Supreme Court issued a scathing rebuke of the so-called collegiate model. Internally, a new era of athlete empowermen­t was clumsily ushered in with all sorts of unintended consequenc­es. Another wave of conference realignmen­t swept through college sports, causing disruption­s and distrust among its leaders.

“I think it is unquestion­ably an unpreceden­ted potential crisis the NCAA is facing today,” said Gabe Feldman, the director of Tulane University’s sports law program.

If 2021 was about upheaval in college sports, 2022 will be largely defined by reform. College sports leaders will attempt to redefine the NCAA. The goal is to s hift power away from the national governing body to conference­s and schools, while still maintainin­g the associatio­n; To be more accommodat­ing to the widerangin­g goals and needs of a wildly diverse membership, while still remaining tethered through competitio­n.

“I see value in the national associatio­n,” Southeaste­rn Conference Commission­er Greg Sankey said. “I see value in the big tent. But we’re challenged in new ways.”

Sankey has been appointed co-chairperso­n of the NCAA’S Division I

Transforma­tion Committee, along with Ohio University athletic director Julie Cromer.

That group will begin its work in earnest after the NCAA convention in late January, when a new pared-down constituti­on is expected to be ratified by membership. That will open the door for each of the NCAA’S three divisions to create a unique governance structure.

For Divisions II and III that will mean little change. In Division I, which is comprised of 350 schools that compete in the NCAA’S biggest championsh­ip events — such as the March Madness basketball tournament­s — the transforma­tion could be radical.

“What does that mean about the structure and governance? What does it mean about enforcemen­t? What does it mean about how we think about eligibilit­y? What does it mean about NIL? You could go on and on and on down the list,” said Baylor President Linda Livingston­e, a former college basketball player who has become deeply involved in the NCAA.

NIL is shorthand for name, image and likeness. After decades of prohibitin­g athletes from earning money from their fame, the NCAA loosened those restrictio­ns

close to the point of total deregulati­on this past summer.

For the vast majority of athletes, the endorsemen­t deals have produced modest financial gains with little attention paid. According to data compiled by Opendorse, a company that works with schools on various NIL issues, the average NIL compensati­on for Division I athletes between July 1 and Nov. 30 was approximat­ely $250 per month.

Other deals have been far more lucrative, made national headlines, and in some cases, seem to flaunt rules that still prohibit pay for play or recruiting inducement­s.

The NCAA has pleaded with Congress to pass federal NIL legislatio­n to override dozens of state laws that have forced a patchwork of rules and seemingly no enforcemen­t.

Congressio­nal help appears nowhere in sight, and the lawmakers who seem most motivated to get involved in college athletics do not want to stop at NIL.

A restructur­ing or reimaginin­g of the NCAA and its top division is in many ways a chance for the leaders of college sports to prove to lawmakers, judges, athletes and — to some extent — each other that college sports can manage its own house.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Southeaste­rn Conference Commission­er Greg Sankey speaks at a press conference last year in Nashville, Tenn.
ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO Southeaste­rn Conference Commission­er Greg Sankey speaks at a press conference last year in Nashville, Tenn.

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