Membership stable after two years of upheaval, Colonial Athletic Association and Atlantic 10 Conference schools and officials turn their attention to the growing movement among the NCAA's power conferences toward greater freedom to govern themselves.
A potential new NCAA governance model dominated discussions at recent conference meetings among coaches and athletic directors, and earlier this week at presidents' meetings within both leagues.
"This summer there's going to be a lot of conversation," William and Mary athletic director Terry Driscoll said, "a lot of discussion, a lot of posturing, for lack of a better word, to get to a point where people decide whether they want full autonomy in their governance and to what degree they're willing to work with other groups."
The five power conferences — the ACC, Southeastern, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 — have separated themselves from the other 27 Division I leagues financially, largely due to lucrative TV contracts for football broadcast rights that bring in millions of dollars annually.
Those leagues want the opportunity to handle their affairs and spend money how they see fit, whether it's extra stipends for athletes — the so-called "cost of attendance" above what's provided in scholarships — or in areas such as increased medical benefits and athletic training tables.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive, at his league's recent conference meetings, even floated the idea of the power leagues splitting off into a Division IV if they aren't granted greater latitude by the NCAA or its membership.
None of Slive's brethren hopped on the secession bandwagon, but in an era in which the status quo is increasingly challenged — the O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial, the Northwestern football players union decision — a new model is inevitable.
"It's a big deal," Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said, "because the NCAA is such a large organization with so many diverse institutions that a major restructuring of governance is going to impact everyone."
Leagues such as the CAA, the Newport News-based A-10 and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference wait to see what comes of the discussion and possible trickle-down effects.
"Some of the stuff hasn't been clarified to a great degree that it doesn't send you chasing worst-case scenarios," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said. "Because it's in generalities and people sit down and talk through things, you tend to go to the extremes. It's like you're reading the fine print in the contract to buy your car or the warning label on the medication you're taking. It says you can go blind, gain weight and your hair falls out, but it's good for a cold."
Conference meetings were a part of the process that will lead to the new model. A draft was circulated in May. NCAA reps visited conference offices to explain what they could, and league officials in turn discussed key points and possibilities at their respective conference meetings.
The next step is conference commissioners' meetings starting Monday at Dana Point, Calif., where Yeager, McGlade and their peers will voice their constituents' positions and concerns.
Schools and officials have until July 1 to file formal comments about the plan to the NCAA Steering Committee on Governance. The committee will make adjustments and then circulate the plan among conferences and schools beginning July 11. A final plan will be submitted to the NCAA Board of Directors on Aug. 7.
A 60-day override period exists once the final plan is submitted to the board. If 125 Division I schools request an override by the end of the 60-day window, in early October, action is tabled. The plan then will be taken up and likely voted on at the full NCAA convention in January in Washington D.C., an appropriate setting, given that the government of Division I sports is at stake.
"The period of time between now and July 1 will be one of great input into the steering committee — concern, support, issues, whatever," Yeager said. "What they want to do is get a report going to the board that has as much consensus support as anything because nobody wants a big fight in an override. That's why the next two weeks are going to be fairly spellbinding, if anything is spellbinding in NCAA restructuring."
McGlade is confident that the seven university presidents on the steering committee will work conscientiously to assemble and circulate a new plan. But given the magnitude of change in the works and the number of schools and conferences, she said, "I think the timeline is extremely worrisome."
The new governance model goes beyond simply giving conferences and schools more latitude to spend money and conduct business. It also will restructure the membership of the NCAA's powerful Board of Directors — which schools and leagues will be represented and ultimately vote.
McGlade believes that the A-10 and other non-FBS football Division I leagues should and will be adequately represented. The NCAA basketball tournament remains a signature and lucrative event, and it embodies the inclusive ethos that the governing body wants to convey. The A-10, the restructured Big East and the American Athletic Conference each had multiple teams in the NCAA tournament.
Though what McGlade referred to as the "five equity conferences" are the prime movers in restructuring, she said that the A-10 membership fully supports giving schools the option to provide greater assistance to student-athletes. For example, the A-10 supported the "cost of attendance" measure when it was introduced in 2011, and will do so again.
McGlade favors a more permissive model that gives schools the option to provide extra benefits. She recognizes that all athletic departments can't afford cost of attendance stipends or charter flights for their teams, but she believes it's best to give schools the option to do so.