In the opposite of an upset, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted 16-2 Thursday to give schools from the big five power conferences — such as the Southeastern Conference, of which LSU is a charter member — more freedom to determine how they are governed.
The nation’s 65 wealthiest programs from the SEC, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific-12 and Notre Dame championed the move toward what is being referred to as autonomy, citing increasing differences between themselves and the rest of the other 284 schools in Division I.
Schools like LSU, the only Louisiana member of a “big five” conference, now will be free to put forward legislation that better serves their interests.
One of the first proposals is expected to be the granting of additional benefits above the cost of tuition, room and board.
Such stipends, intended to help student-athletes cover the so-called “full cost” of college education, are beyond the means of the vast majority of college athletic programs.
But for schools like LSU, whose 2014-15 athletic budget is projected to be a record $107 million, thanks to a 102,321-seat football stadium and enormous television contracts, it’s an added expense that is doable.
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva sees stipends coming but wants to make sure they’re handled the right way.
“I read a proposal recently from the ACC, which talked about giving the cost of attendance based on financial need,” Alleva said. “A lot of kids qualify for Pell Grants, and if the NCAA allowed us to give a stipend to Pell Grant kids, the federal government could reduce their Pell Grant. That defeats the purpose.
“I’m OK with giving kids money, but it has to be done in a smart way.”
LSU football coach Les Miles endorsed the Division I Board of Directors’ decision.
“I think it’s imperative,” Miles said. “I think there’s an equity issue.
“I think it’s fair and safe to say that those (big) five conferences have advantages and even within those five conferences are those schools that have greater advantages. To me, it’s a quality decision to allow like teams to be governed by like rules. I think the major five conferences should have some say.
“The NCAA is governing a wide group of schools. It’s difficult for them to come up with rules that really fit everybody.”
University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth played at Division II Delta State in Mississippi and works at a school outside the “big five” in the Sun Belt Conference.
He is against some student-athletes receiving more benefits because they attend wealthier schools.
“I don’t know what will be the outcome of all this,” Hudspeth said. “I just was not a proponent for it. Players already have a great reward of a full scholarship. The ones that qualify for $5,200 a year of financial aid, that’s over five grand they get to put in their pocket. Guys have a way to make it.
“What about the Division II players? Division III players don’t get anything (no scholarship aid), and they work just as hard. I don’t know. I’m for helping our student athletes. There are a lot of things we can do to make it better for them, I’m just not sure giving them money is the answer. I think there’s other things we can do that would be long-term better for the players.
“It is what it is. You just wish you could keep the parity among all Division I universities.”
Tulane football coach Curtis Johnson said he is content to take a wait-and-see approach before supporting or condemning the NCAA decision.
“Before we say what’s going to happen, let’s let the dust settle,” Johnson said at his team’s football media day news conference.
Johnson contends that schools like Tulane and LSU shouldn’t be considered haves and have-nots.
Tulane is a new member of the American Athletic Conference. Its membership includes Connecticut, which won the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments this year, and UCF, which in January beat Big 12 member Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Connecticut proved who is the power in any conference,” Johnson said. “Their men’s, women’s teams won both (NCAA) titles. UCF won a major bowl.
“All we can do is continue to play ball, recruit well and win. Winning solves everything.”
In the case of NCAA autonomy, ultimatums help, too.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was among the biggest proponents of changing NCAA Division I governance, floating the thinly veiled threat of a new NCAA Division IV for schools in the big five conferences if autonomy wasn’t approved.
“If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student-athletes,” Slive said in July at SEC football media days.
On Thursday, Slive sounded pleased with the NCAA decision.
“This is an opportunity for historic change in college athletics,” Slive said in a statement released by the SEC office. “Now we can go to work to begin to better address the needs of our student-athletes.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert, who served as LSU’s chancellor from 1999-2004, lauded the decision by the Division I Board of Directors.
“The new governance model represents a compromise on all sides that will better serve our members and, most importantly, our student-athletes,” Emmert said in an NCAA statement. “These changes will help all our schools better support the young people who come to college to play sports while earning a degree.”
In 2011, Emmert proposed the idea of $2,000 stipends for student-athletes. That proposal was shot down by the NCAA Board of Directors 14-4 in 2012 but set the groundwork for Thursday’s decision.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Alleva said.
“I think there has been a growing divide as television contracts have grown,” he said. “The five major conferences have TV contracts and bigger stadiums that are full and more resources to pay their coaches and to pay benefits to their athletes. The spread has grown, and it’s come to this point.”
Southern University athletic director William Broussard could not immediately be reached for comment.
Advocate sportswriters Ross Dellenger, Les East and Luke Johnson contributed to this report. Follow Scott Rablais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.
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