As Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated noted, talk of overhauling NCAA governance has moved on from just complaints about the lack of a stipend or cost-of-attendance scholarships. Upcoming legislative disputes, the need to overhaul the enforcement model (again) and the threat of even bigger changes being forced upon college sports have added to the need for radical change, real or perceived.
But the stipend still attracts a lot of attention. Just yesterday, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott once again brought it up. Restructuring NCAA governance is not a trivial operation either, and it too could be derailed by the rest of the NCAA. If that is the case, then attention might turn back to how to get larger scholarships for full scholarship student-athletes passed, particularly those in revenue sports.
Almost all the major commissioners have talked about NCAA legislation and the 340+ Division I members as if everyone always votes on everything. Everyone always votes on most things. But only schools in the two football subdivisions vote on legislation specific to that subdivision. So there is no threat of Big South schools, for instance, derailing FBS legislation.
That could be the end-around to get a stipend passed. Few FBS institutions objected to the stipend, but even if we assume this is a Power 5 vs. everyone else debate, it can still get done. Voting is weighted on FBS issues just like it is everywhere else. Seven conferences (the Power 5, American, and Conference USA) have 3 votes while the other three have 1.5. The Power 5 has a strong majority (15 to 10.5) and could get a stipend passed in April over the objections of the other conferences.
The legislation then goes before the Board of Directors. There, the same thing applies, FBS conferences only get to vote, albeit without weighted voting. In the haves vs. have-nots debate, that means the Board of Directors would have a tie. Therefore, the Board of Directors would take no action on the stipend proposal, and it would head to the override period.
For FBS specific legislation, it takes just 25 override requests to start the process, 50 to suspend the legislation pending the outcome. With 65 power conference teams, the 60 other teams can still easily call for an override vote, and suspend the legislation. But when it goes before the Board of Directors, they once again will have a tie, and be unable to take action. That sends the proposal to an override vote. And there, the smaller FBS conferences lack the 79 votes necessary to overturn the proposal.
With the stipend passed, in theory there is a huge problem for the NCAA. Larger scholarships just for football players creates a major Title IX issue. There will also be significant pressure on the NCAA to add men’s basketball. But the Power 5 conference institutions would almost invite the lawsuits, maybe even try to tie in the NCAA as a co-defendant to get stipends expanded. And once that door is open, the rest of the sports can rush through.
So do not take commissioners’ claims that they cannot get a stipend done without a grain of salt. They can, but it would require throwing their weight around, breaking a few eggs, and it would not help to restore a collegial working atmosphere around college athletics. But then again, breaking away or creating a new division and freezing everyone else out is not likely to be received very well either.