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NCAA votes today to give top conferences "Autonomy" regarding rules

After today's vote, it is likely that the NCAA's Division I will never be the same again.

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Update (1:30pm):As expected, the NCAA Division I Board has approved the Autonomy governance proposal in today's 16-2 vote. The process now enters a 60-day period where school administrators can respond. The two dissenting votes came from the Presidents of Brown University (representing the Ivy League) and the University of Delaware (representing the CAA).

One way or another, major changes are coming to college athletics and those changes are part of a process that will begin with a vote today. The five richest Division I conferences are pushing for a proposal that will allow them to develop their own sets of rules within the current Division I structure -- though the process of making their own rules won't be easy.


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According to the NCAA's published autonomy proposal, the decisions on Autonomy-rules would be made by a voting panel comprised of one delegate from each of the Power-5 conference schools as well as three student-athlete representatives from each school. Of the school and student representatives, at least 51% will need to vote in favor of a rules change, as well as a majority of the voters from 3 or 4 conferences -- depending on the level of support it received from the panel as a whole.

This process appears to be specifically tied to the five conferences -- The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC -- that currently constitute the major college football powers, though the power to vary rules will extend across all of those 65 schools' student-athletes.

Rules changes under the Autonomy proposal would be limited to a number of areas designated as "autonomous," though the Division I Board of Directors (consisting of presidents from 10 FBS, 5 FCS and 5 non-football schools) can alter that list in the future. A Governance Subcommittee will also monitor the autonomy legislation to ensure that it does not "adversely impact fair competition."

The Board of Directors will now focus on "high level" issues such as oversight, policy and strategic matters, rather than on specific areas of legislation. A 40-member Council Governance system will be arranged for legislative issues that are outside of the areas of autonomy.

Key to the proposal is the fact that student athletes are now given a seat at the table to vote on legislative matters -- which was not the case previously. FCS and non-football conferences are also now receiving greater representation on the NCAA board, receiving five members each, up from a shared-seven.

The areas where Autonomy will be granted to the five power conferences are:

  1. Health and Wellness - providing more robust health-insurance for athletes.
  2. Meals and Nutrition - potentially the end of nonsensical "cream cheese rules"
  3. Financial Aid - allowing the power conferences to increase the aid available to scholarship athletes
  4. Student-Athlete Support - allowing an increase in awards and benefits to cover athlete expenses
  5. Pre-Enrollment Support (financial) - assistance to families to visit universities and in the recruiting process or in the summer prior to enrollment.
  6. Insurance and Career Transition - rules governing athletes' loans and insurance against career-ending injuries and rules relating to agents and advisors.
  7. Career Pursuits - the ability for athletes to promote themselves and their career ambitions.
  8. Time Demands - limitations on practice time and academic time.
  9. Academic Support
  10. Recruiting - rules related to the infringement of recruiting activities on athletes' academic preparation.
  11. Personnel - related to non-coaching positions, titles, and other staff issues.

Transfer eligibility was previously included in an earlier draft of the proposal, but the matter was a hot-button issue for the non-power schools that would be involved in today's vote and was removed. The matter of transfer eligibility, essentially allowing power conferences to make transfers eligible immediately, along with matters of rules Enforcement, will topics that the NCAA would prioritize over the next two-year-period.

They will also not be permitted to augment the number of scholarships available in a sport initially.

Key to the process, any legislation passed under autonomy may also be adopted by the other Division I conferences at their own discretion. Meaning, that while the Big East won't be included in the decision-making process for autonomy, they would be able to adopt any rules that are ultimately passed by that group of five power conferences.

If the vote today passes, it will begin a 60-day override period, where at least 75 schools will have to request an override to require the current board to reconsider the rule change. If 125 schools request the override, then the rule will be suspended until the board reconsider. In the event of an override, if the Board does not change its vote to the negative, then the entire Division I will vote on the proposal, requiring a five-eighths majority to rescind the rule.

If the new governance system -- with autonomy -- doesn't pass, the five power conferences will begin to consider other options to increase their freedoms within college athletics. That could include forming a breakaway NCAA division with an entirely-different set of rules.

For conferences like the Big East, who hope to protect their place in college basketball, such a breakaway could be devastating.

Autonomy is expected to pass the board today (though, the override process could still kill it), but it won't be the end of the process. Autonomy isn't any specific set of rules just yet, and while there is some agreement about moves that the power conferences will want to discuss, there isn't likely a set of new rules ready to be rolled out instantaneously -- nothing would even be able to go into place until the 2015-16 academic year.

USA Today reports that even on key issues like full-cost of attendance scholarships, there may be disagreements within the power conference groups. Cost of attendance is at least one issue that a number of non-power conferences have latched onto and reportedly are prepared to adopt -- including the Big East -- but how those numbers are calculated will be a matter for debate that could delay adoption of other new rules.