INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA Board of Directors overwhelmingly approved a package of historic reforms Thursday that will give the nation’s five biggest conferences the ability to unilaterally change some of the basic rules governing college sports.
If the 16-2 decision stands, there will be striking differences between the 65 largest schools and the more than 280 others in Division 1 beginning as early as Oct. 1, though few expect change to come that quickly.
‘‘I am immensely proud of the work done by the membership,’’ NCAA president Mark Emmert said. ‘‘The new governance model represents a compromise on all sides that will better serve our members and, most importantly, our student-athletes. These changes will help all our schools better support the young people who come to college to play sports while earning a degree.’’
Representatives from the five richest leagues — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Southeastern Conference — will hold nearly twice as much voting power (37.5 percent) as any other group on a newly created council, where most legislation will be approved or rejected.
The five other Football Bowl Subdivision leagues would account for 18.5 percent while the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision and non-football-playing schools would split up another 37.5 percent of the vote. Athletes and faculty will account for the rest.
Commissioners and school leaders from the power conferences have until Oct. 1 to create a wish list of issues they want to handle on their own.
Any items that make the wish list would have to be approved by at least three of the five power-conference reps and at least 12 of the 20 presidents or chancellors on an expanded board of directors. Then, one representative from each of the 65 schools in the power-five leagues and three student-athletes from each conference would vote on each item. Passage would require 60 percent of the 80 votes and a simple majority of support from schools in at least three of the five conferences or a simple majority of all votes (41) and a simple majority from schools in four of the five leagues.
Proponents believe all the checks and balances will work.
‘‘It does provide degrees of autonomy for the five high-resource conferences,’’ said Nathan Hatch, board chairman and Wake Forest president. ‘‘This is not complete autonomy, we’re still part of Division 1, but I think it allows us to provide more benefits to student-athletes.’’
The legislation still could be overridden in the next 60 days.