The NCAA voted on Thursday to give the richest college conferences unprecedented freedom to make their own rules on matters such as stipends, scholarships and insurance for players.
The decision by the NCAA Division 1 board affects the 65 schools in the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12 and Southeastern conferencescollectively known as the Big 5. Schools could begin implementing new rules by early next year, if the change makes it through a 60-day review period.
The new leeway won't allow schools to give college players a paycheck or a cut of lucrative marketing and broadcast deals. It is limited to specific areas, such as loosening recruiting curbs, offering more comprehensive health insurance and letting schools cover the gap of roughly $2,000 to $4,000 between what a scholarship typically pays and the actual cost of attending school.
The new system would make official what has long been true: Universities with big-budget sports programs are in a different echelon than the nation's other schools, even the rest of the 350 members of the NCAA's Division 1.
Now, the University of Alabama, with an athletic department that generated $125 million in 2011-12, will also get to bestow more perks and protections on its players than a school like North Carolina Asheville or Mississippi Valley State, which generate athletic revenues well below the $7 million-a-year salary of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
Todays vote by the NCAA Board of Directors will have a significant impact on the future of intercollegiate athletics and more than likely will result in an increase in the cost of operating the athletic programs of the universities of the Sun Belt Conference," SBC Commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement earlier today. "While there will be challenges ahead, our universities are committed to the continued academic success of our student-athletes along with providing the necessary benefits to protect their overall health and welfare. Our universities have integrated the values of intercollegiate athletics into their respective academic missions on each campus and the SBC looks forward to continuing to play a prominent role within the new NCAA governance as one of the 10 FBS conferences.