Delany: Voting process vital to autonomy

Many of the benefits for college players gaining national attention these days aren't new to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. He brought them up years ago.

  • Increasing the value of an athletic scholarship to the federal full cost of attendance figures? Delany mentioned that initiative nearly three years ago at the Big Ten's spring meetings in Chicago.

  • Forming an educational trust to ensure lifetime coverage for players? Delany included that in his four-point reform plan at Big Ten media days in July.

  • Limits on time athletes spend on their sports? Also included in Delany's July 2013 plan.

Yet only now, as the NCAA faces unprecedented pressure from lawsuits, the Northwestern unionizing push and a growing national sentiment that the athlete experience must improve, are we seeing the potential for real change. The NCAA's Division I Board of Directors on Thursday endorsed a plan that would give the five major conferences greater autonomy in creating their own policies. If the proposal gets approved, the 65 schools in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC could approve measures such as increased scholarships.

"It's at least frustrating," Delany said of the delay to get reforms through the NCAA. "I'm appreciative that some of these restructuring ideas seem to have traction. I'd like to see it move faster rather than slower."

The Division I board is soliciting feedback from its members and has a final vote scheduled for August. The biggest priority, according to Delany, is outlining a voting structure that respects all involved but doesn't prevent reforms from getting through.

The current NCAA governance structure has prevented reforms -- such as more valuable athletic scholarships -- from being adopted because smaller schools, which lack the ability to fund such scholarships but wield equal voting power, have shot down the proposals.

"The most damaging thing," Delany said, "would be to receive the authority to have autonomy but to set the bar for passage so high that it would be difficult to achieve except with some watered-down version of reform. I'm hoping that we get the grant of authority, autonomy and flexibility, and we get a reasonable process with a reasonable bar that allows us to go to work as soon as possible."

What Delany calls a "constitutional bar" -- a two-thirds or three-fourths majority required for reforms to be approved -- would not work for the five power conferences. The Big Ten has proposed the following system:

  • Each conference would have its members vote on a reform such as increasing scholarships to full cost of attendance or an educational trust. Each institution would receive one vote and the process would be transparent.

  • If a majority of schools approve a reform in three of five conferences, the vote then would go to all 65 schools and 60 percent (39) would need to vote yes for the initiative to go through.

  • If a majority of schools approve a reform in four of five conferences, the vote would go to all 65 schools and a simple majority (33) would need to vote yes.

"You don't want tyranny of the minority, and you don't want the bar so low that it doesn't reflect the will," Delany said.

He added that it's also important for the five conferences to get the authority to interpret and waive reform measures, not just to approve them.

If autonomy is approved in August, Delany said, proposals could begin circulating and reforms could be enacted early next year.

"We're on second base; we're not around third going home," Delany said. "[Wake Forest president and the Division I board chair] Nathan Hatch said it's a work in progress. In some areas, the proposal is a little more developed and a little more mature.

"But we need to have a process that allows us to deliver on the expectation for reform."