GREENSBORO, N.C. — A year ago, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford stood before the media at the Football Kickoff and expressed concern about the complex issues — such as student-athlete compensation — that threatened to splinter the NCAA’s membership between the haves and the have-nots.
Sensing the NCAA had reached a crossroads, Swofford echoed the same caution as his fellow Power 5 conference commissioners, saying it was perhaps time for the NCAA to consider restructuring the governance of its Division 1 membership.
Sunday, Swofford proudly basked in the afterglow of Florida State’s national championship in the finale of the 2013 Bowl Championship Series and was excited about the league’s prospects of having a representative among the final four participants in the new College Football Playoff system.
He also expressed confidence about the NCAA’s handling of its Division 1 programs after the NCAA’s Steering Committee, chaired by Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, Friday released an updated model of how the division will operate. The model gave not only a voice to student-athletes, but autonomy to the Power 5 conference schools.
“I don’t think it has to weaken the NCAA,’’ Swofford said of the restructured model. “I think it strengthens the five conferences [ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Southeastern]. But I think we have a responsibility, as five conferences, to take that autonomy and do the right things. I think we’ve found a way to address the issues that are most specific to the five conferences, while at the same time not damaging the rest of Division 1.
“Hopefully, that’s where we’ve landed.”
The steering committee agreed to allow the Power 5 until Oct. 1 to put together their first proposal that would be considered at the 2015 NCAA convention. But before that can happen, the NCAA’s board of directors must vote Aug. 7 on the complete restructuring model.
“It is my hope that it will be adopted by the full board in August so that implementation of the new structure and procedures begin this fall,’’ Swofford said. “It largely gives the Power 5 conferences what we have been asking for and keeps the current revenue-sharing approach and the NCAA basketball tournament intact, thus keeping us all under what we call the big tent of the NCAA.’’
Swofford said most of the changes the membership have sought involved enhancements to the welfare of the student-athlete.
“As we look ahead, the [Power 5] will continue to prioritize the discussions surrounding the enhancement of the athletic scholarship,’’ Swofford said, “ensuring that student-athletes have every opportunity to earn a degree, even if they come back after their eligibility has expired and they’re through playing and ensure that they have their health and safety needs met by the institutions they represent.’’
Swofford was asked if the recent attempts by Northwestern’s football team to unionize had any effect on the steering committee’s attempt to restructure.
“I think if you haven’t been a part of these discussions for the last two or three years, the average fan out there might look at this and say it’s a knee-jerk reaction to the Northwestern situation,’’ Swofford said. “It’s not. You’d be hard-pressed to find any of us in college athletics that think our student-athletes are employees of the university, and we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out with the [National Labor Relations Board] and then deal with it from that standpoint.
“But a lot of the issues that arose out of the Northwestern situation were issues that had already been identified, and this whole effort to restructure and give more autonomy to the schools that have financial resources to address some of those issues started long before the Northwestern situation arose.’’
The steering committee proposed a 24-member board of directors that would be composed of five presidents from the five power conferences; five presidents from the remaining Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt); five presidents from the Football Championship Subdivision; five presidents from non-football-playing schools; the chair of the Division 1 student-athlete advisory committee; chair of the NCAA Council; a Division 1 member of the Faculty Athletics Representative Association; and a campus senior woman athletics representative to be selected by the executive committee of the National Association for Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators.
“I would guess there is nobody who will get everything they want at the end of the day,’’ Swofford said. “There may be some things where we would like to have had a few more people on the board or the council, or we might have liked the board to be a little bit smaller, but the primary things I think are moving along very, very well, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t pass on Aug. 7.
“The autonomy aspect of it just opens up a lot of opportunities for the five conferences to do some things that we feel are important, and most of those things are initially related to the student-athletes’ situation.
“Like a lot of things, the devil is in the details, and I can’t stand here today and tell you that the five of us are all on the same page as to those details, and how the scholarships should be altered exactly, because it gets sort of complicated, but in concept, I don’t think there’s any question that all five conferences are on the same page.
“I think the comment to our group was that the good ship ‘Status Quo’ has sailed, and it’s time for some changes and some significant changes, and it’s going to present some challenges, but it’s time for that, and those are the right kinds of things to do and to address.’’