NCAA reorganizes around new constitution that devolves power to universities

INDIANAPOLIS. NCAA member schools and conferences voted on Thursday to adopt a new, pared-down constitution, the first step towards decentralizing the organization, which is facing growing challenges to its importance as the premier body in college sports.

But the debate over the association’s adoption of a new charter that would empower schools and conferences has hinted at an increasingly sharp gap between the mission and financial strength of these thousands of different institutions, from a football powerhouse like Georgia’s national champion to non-scholarship athletes. in places like Grinnell College.

This gap promises to be highlighted as the three divisions of the NCAA discuss the details of how they will rebuild in the coming months.

That’s when, especially in Division I, the wealthiest schools like Texas and Ohio State, whose sports budget exceeds $200 million, and their conferences will seek more influence on how they operate, unencumbered by the NCAA’s central government.

The revised constitution easily passed the two-thirds threshold required for approval, winning 80 percent of the 1,016 votes at member conferences and schools. It will take effect from August. one.

The new charter is a response to a particularly tumultuous 2021, which, amid the pandemic, included the disclosure of gender disparity in Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournamentsthe adoption of state legislation, which allowed athletes to cash in on their fameas well as Congressman waving his fingers about what was wrong with sports in college.

However, the most embarrassing moment came last June, when Supreme Court, in a case that cleared the way for education-related payouts and benefits, almost called forth a direct challenge to the NCAA’s ban on direct payments to players. Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh targeted the NCAA, suggesting that the organization was violating antitrust rules.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, in a speech delivered remotely Thursday as he said he was being restricted by coronavirus-related regulations, presented the new charter less as a constitution than as a declaration of independence from a way of doing business that no longer works. The last year or so has made it clear, he says, that “if we don’t rise to the challenge now, at this crucial moment, others will want to,” referring to the courts and legislatures.

The new constitution will replace the current draft, but notably not the voluminous 463-page Division I rulebook. According to Emmert, its goal was to reduce the bylaws to the core of what collegiate sports should strive for: diversity, inclusiveness and fairness. . and concern for the physical and mental health of athletes. He also argues that college athletes should not be considered employees, which would strike at the very heart of the entire enterprise.

The new constitution was supported by the NCAA Board of Governors, a 25-member committee that determines the organization’s direction.

That committee took the step Wednesday night to update its policy on transgender athletes who will be required to be tested for testosterone, starting with the winter sports championships starting in March. The move is intended to bring the NCAA into line with national federations (or world federations) that set standards for acceptable testosterone levels in their sports in the United States. Previously, the NCAA only required that transgender women undergo testosterone suppression treatment for one calendar year before competing in women’s track and field.

An NCAA spokeswoman said the organization does not know how many athletes will be affected by the new rules.

The issue recently gained attention following the performance of Leah Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer who led the nation in the women’s 200m and 500m freestyle this season after previously competing for the school’s men. team.

US Swimming said in a statement that it is working on a new policy with the sport’s international federation, FINA, and expects new guidelines for elite competition “soon.”

But much of the discussion among administrators at the five-day convention, which began on Tuesday, centered around a new constitution that was about a third thicker than the current one.

Robert M. Gates, former US Secretary of Defense, jotted down the first draft of a new constitution in a single weekend, typing 12 and a half pages double-spaced at his home in Washington State. (Eventually it bloated to 19 pages.)

This relative speed has led some opponents to wonder whose voice was heard during Thursday’s public pre-vote session.

George Bright, athletic director of Elizabeth City State, North Carolina’s historically black college, denounced that the new constitution requires HBCUs to be represented on the Board of Governors, but as a non-voting member. “When you marginalize the HBCU vote, you marginalize our options,” he said at the convention center and virtual auditorium, referring to separate but equal images.

Betsy Mitchell, athletic director at Caltech and a former Olympic champion swimmer, called the process rushed and orchestrated by a small group. She called the vote a charade.

At its core was the question: which of its members should now lead the NCAA?

Division I schools generated 96 percent of the $18.9 billion that college athletics earned in fiscal 2019, but those 358 schools are more than 2-to-1 outnumbered by Division II and Division III schools, which together also have far more athletes . and have completely different plans than the widely known football and basketball leaders.

“We’re just a virtual cabbage in a Division I hamburger,” said Hiram Hodosh, president of Claremont McKenna College in California, who noted that Division III carries the banner of the term “student-athlete.”

He wryly remarked, with a wink at the college sports industry, which is built on the backs of unpaid athletes, that “without the rest of us, it might just start to look like a business venture.”

However, this proposal was enough to win the support of most of the Division II and III schools.

The simplified constitution “will untie some of the knots, if you want to call it that, that prevent divisions from doing what they want to do,” said Shane Lyons, West Virginia athletic director who sits on the board. of the Governors and Division I of the Board of Directors.

Any transformational change, Lyons said, will begin to take shape in the coming weeks as the Division I, II and III committees begin laying out what greater autonomy would look like. The Division I committee will begin to study matters such as law enforcement, income distribution, hiring calendars, and anything else that can be laid out in a hefty set of rules.

Julie Kromer, athletic director at Ohio University and co-chair of the committee along with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey, said there are people on the committee who want to go through this with a scalpel. Others, she said, would rather throw it in the fire and start from scratch.

But in Division I, not everyone will have a vote on the committee tasked with shaping the new future. A total of 32 conferences, 11 of which will be excluded.

Talya Minsberg as well as Alan Blinder made a report.