NCAA power move creates questions, 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 conferences that are essentially ceding power to their athletic brethren.
The board voted in Indianapolis Thursday 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 COA issue is a redefinition of what a full scholarship is. 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 lays 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 between 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 that would likely come 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."
They can begin voting on Oct. 1 regarding changes that would take effect in the fall of next year, said Heather Lyke, vice president and director of athletics for Eastern Michigan University. The MAC is being proactive in its efforts to deal with this issue in particular.
Lyke leads a task force that will analyze and make recommendations to the conference's athletic directors and university presidents in the coming months.
"There's a lot of conversation that needs to go into prior and those are the kinds of conversations we're having with the task force," she said. "How is cost of attendance calculated? How does it impact students that are receiving Pell Grants [federal financial aid based on need] is it going to be a uniform cost? We have to decide definition for true cost of attendance."
UA football coach Terry Bowden isn't surprised by the planning that led up to today'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."
The reality is that changes were going to come in this matter regardless and it all boils down to the factors that Bowden mentions. To summarize: he who has the gold rules.
Right now, those 65 universities in those five conferences, own the prestige, the power and the gold. And Bowden realizes it. 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."
Bowden doesn't expect much change at all either.
"The only thing that's going to change is those schools trying to move up to 1-A," he said, "they'd better get their ducks in a row or they're not going to be able to afford it."
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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