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NCAA board hands 5 biggest conferences more power

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Updated: September 9, 2014 6:23AM

At this point, whether college-football players end up unionizing doesn’t seem to matter. Either way, Northwestern’s having raised the idea has created momentum within the NCAA.

On Thursday, the Division I Board of Directors voted 16-2 to adopt a new governance ­structure that allows student-athletes, ­literally, a seat at the decision-making table.

This new regulation developed a body called “The Council,” an eight-person unit that includes two seats for student-athletes, two for faculty and two for commissioners. “The Council” has voting power over new proposals. “The Council” will vote every April on whether to pass rules.

The approved proposal also allows the five major conferences to make many of their own rules. While the original proposal required three of those five conferences to sponsor rule changes, that stipulation was changed to one.

“The Council” is subject to a 60-day period during which it can be vetoed.

The conversation for change began in Evanston with the College Athletes Players Association’s push for unionization. Now it officially has gone national. The players’ stated goal was not to attack Northwestern but to force change nationally.

Mission accomplished.

“These guys showed tremendous courage,” Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, told the Sun-Times. “They knew that they were challenging an unjust multibillion-dollar system in a way that had never been challenged before. By signing those union cards, those players elevated the discussion from a niche, quiet, passive kind of a back-and-forth to national dialogue.”

What will the “Power Five” conferences, including the Big Ten, do with their newfound regulatory freedom?

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who said in a statement that he was “pleased” by today’s outcome, has long championed an increase in player benefits, but not the payment of student-athletes. Of course, any legislation would need to comply with Title IX.

Northwestern’s initial unionization push was focused more on the idea of guaranteeing scholarships and providing medical coverage after players’ football careers have ended.

“Any voice that the players get is a positive step forward to getting things changed for the betterment of college sports, which is what I think everybody wants, everybody in this room, everybody across the NCAA — the athletes and the coaches,” Wildcats center Brandon Vitabile said.

Northwestern still finds itself unjustly caught in the crossfire as the full National Labor Relations Board has yet to rule on the university’s appeal of the decision to allow its scholarship football players to unionize.

Could Northwestern do things better? Probably. But it more than any other university is the gold standard under the current system. Just ask the players who see their school as the model for how the NCAA should be organized.

“Structure it more how Northwestern has done it with the four-year-guaranteed scholarships,” linebacker Collin Ellis said.

Huma is understandably skeptical. Unionization was an attempt by players to gain the necessary leverage to force the NCAA to change. It appears the NCAA has responded.

“It’s uncertain whether or not this structure will be any more effective than the current structure in terms of getting legislation passed that will provide any meaningful protection for the players,” Huma said. “Time will tell whether this is a step in the right direction.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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