Reforms include stipend for athletes

Pac-12 university presidents have sent a letter to their colleagues at the other four major football conferences calling for sweeping changes to the NCAA model and autonomy for those leagues.

A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday night. It was sent last week to the other 53 university presidents from the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference.

Spurred in part by Northwestern football players' move to unionize, the Pac-12 presidents outlined a 10-point plan for reform that includes many proposals commissioners have been advocating for several years, including a stipend for athletes. The NCAA is working on a new governance structure that will allow the five wealthiest conferences to make some rules without the support of smaller Division I schools.

"We acknowledge the core objectives could prove to be expensive and controversial, but the risks of inaction or moving too slowly are far greater," the letter reads. "The time for tinkering with the rules and making small adjustments is over."

Arizona State President Michael Crow told the AP that his counterparts in the Pac-12 are not "happy with where things are going. We're not happy with the nature of the debate out there. And we felt like our voice is not well understood."

"We've been talking about the need for reform for a long time, and so in a sense our thinking has coalesced," Crow said. "There's just so much thinking going on relative to the NCAA. So we thought it was time to say, `Well, this is what we think the NCAA should be, and this is how we think it should work."

The full list of proposals included in the letter are:

- Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.

- Provide reasonable ongoing medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition or practice. Continue efforts to reduce the incidence of disabling injury.

- Guarantee scholarships for enough time to complete a bachelor's degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.

- Decrease the demands placed on the athlete in-season, correspondingly increase the time available for studies and campus life, by preventing the abuse of organized "voluntary" practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week and more realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season.

- Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.

- Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for postseason play.

- Address the "one and done" phenomenon in men's basketball. If the NBA and its Players Association are unable to agree to raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men's basketball.

- Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and NCAA levels.

- Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage of their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.

- Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.

Pac-12 presidents are asking for a response to the proposed reforms by June 4. Crow said the decision by Pac-12 presidents to send the letter was unanimous and the initial feedback from university presidents has been positive.

The plan comes after Northwestern University football players cast secret ballots April 25 on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes. The results of the vote will not be known for some time.

The full National Labor Relations Board has agreed to hear Northwestern's appeal of a regional director's March ruling that the players are university employees and thus can unionize. Ballots will remain impounded until that process is finished, and perhaps until after any court fight that might follow a decision.

Part of the idea behind the proposal by the Pac-12 presidents is to get ahead of the issue and meet some of the demands that have been raised by Northwestern players and other athletes without "professionalizing" college sports.

The letter states "it is clear from the recent statements of any number of individuals that, while they may share or view that labor unions are not the answer, the time has come for a meaningful response both to the student-athletes' grievances and the need to reassert the academic primacy of our mission."