SALT LAKE CITY — Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham welcomed news that the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted to allow the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) autonomy to implement what the Pac-12 said in a press release is the ability to "propose, adopt and implement positive reforms" with "greater flexibility in governance."
After practice Thursday, Whittingham said it was a step in the right direction and something that was inevitable.
"I don't think there was any way that it wasn't going to happen," Whittingham said. "Going forward, there's still some unanswered questions, but I think that for me it was expected, and we'll see how things progress from there."
Utah athletics director Dr. Chris Hill is looking forward to the changes ahead.
“I’m pleased that this legislation got passed. The main purpose of the legislation is to allow us to provide more resources for our student-athletes," Hill said. "It’s always been our goal to provide the best experience possible for our student-athletes and this is one more way to help us achieve our goal.”
In the Pac-12's announcement, Commissioner Larry Scott was optimistic that the five conferences would work together and submit proposals to the NCAA as early as this fall, adding that the Pac-12's goals were recently outlined by the conference's presidents and chancellors. They included financial concerns of scholarships, injury prevention and health care, as well as the preservation of the universities' educational mission.
"We are delighted that after years of debate, a consensus has emerged that the time has come for a modern approach to governance that recognizes the need to give more flexibility to those conferences prepared to do more for student-athletes and, at the same time, preserves the collegiate model which works so well for the vast majority of Pac-12 student-athletes," Scott said. "This is a great day for the 7,000 current student-athletes in the Pac-12 and for generations of future student-athletes who will benefit from the educational opportunities and life lessons made possible by college athletics."
CBSSports.com reports that the NCAA vote permits the 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences to make rules on such things as stipends for cost of attendance, insurance benefits, recruiting rules, staff sizes and hours spent on individual sports. Legislation can be proposed on Oct. 1 and enacted upon at the NCAA convention in January.
Washington State President Elson S. Floyd, who is chairman of the Pac-12 CEO Group, said the new model will allow the conference to continue to maintain its high standards of academic and athletic excellence while adapting to the changing needs and expectations of student-athletes and universities.
"We plan to address needs across the full range of sports, for both men and women, and reinforce something all of our university leaders emphasized earlier this year — education must come first," Floyd said.
Scott expressed hope that the proposal considerations will include the "total cost of attendance" when calculating the dollar amount associated with scholarships. Increased flexibility, Scott explained in the press release, would enable the major conferences to "further support modern student-athlete needs and ensure that they obtain meaningful college degrees."
According to Whittingham, it's all about the athletes.
"In this program the players come first no matter what. We're fighting for everything we can, that we are legally allowed to give these guys," he explained. "It was a great thing when they changed the food rules, particularly allowing us to feed walk-ons. I thought that should have come to pass a long time ago. And now, with the cost-of-attendance formula going to be factored in, hopefully we'll get a little more money in their pockets."
Not everyone, though, is happy about the impending changes.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch released a statement on the matter.
"The NCAA should be responsible for promoting fair competition among its participating institutions and their student-athletes. I am concerned that today's action could create an uneven playing field that may prevent some institutions from being able to compete fairly with other schools that have superior resources to pay for student-athletes," he said. "I also worry about how this decision will affect a school's Title IX requirements and whether this consolidation of power will restrict competition and warrant antitrust scrutiny. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I'll be examining the NCAA's Redesign Model closely to determine if action must be taken to ensure that competition in college athletics among all colleges is preserved."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall also weighed in on the issue. It remains to be seen how BYU, as an independent, will be affected,
"I have mixed feelings. If the true intent is to benefit the student-athletes and their well-being within reason, I'm for part of those ideas. In the discussions that I've been part of, I wish I could say sincerely that is the motive," Mendenhall said. "But usually, it's who has the most money, who can provide more for the sake of themselves and their programs, not really the student-athlete, and it's moving much more toward professionalism than amateurism. I wish I could say this is all for the student-athlete, but that's not how I feel. So I have mixed feelings. It will be an interesting time period in college football and for student-athletes."
As for the impact on BYU, Mendenhall acknowledged that he's spoken about it with BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe.
"From early discussions (with) Tom, our intention will be to provide what myself and he believe are worth following and will pursue those things that have true and real value to our student-athletes and to BYU. His intent, as he's passed it to me, if you look at the world of chasing the Big 5, I think we'll chase what's appropriate and we'll provide everything possible that will benefit our student-athletes, not only on the field but off. But also within reason," Mendenhall said. "When you consider the 120-plus Division I football schools and the number that are in the black, based on which surveys you look at, it's anywhere from only 15 to under 25. Now they say they're going to provide more. It's interesting to see where that money's going to come from."
BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe said he wasn't suprised by the ruling.
“We have been following the proposed changes to the NCAA governance structure for months and anticipated it would pass the board of directors," Holmoe said in a released statement. "At this point it’s hard to speculate about the ramifications to college athletics, but we’ll continue to monitor the issues and prepare to make changes as necessary to remain competitive. In fact, we have plans to move ahead this fall with enhanced nutrition opportunities for our student-athletes, who have been and will continue to be our No. 1 priority within BYU athletics.”
Utah State athletics director Scott Barnes and school president Stan Albrecht were both traveling and unavailable for comment, but Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson did address the ruling in this released statement:
The Mountain West appreciates the efforts of the Division I Steering Committee and chair Nathan Hatch in developing a governance structure that meets the needs of Division I as a whole. Adoption of the new governance model will allow Mountain West institutions to determine how best to meet the needs of their student-athletes while continuing to provide opportunities to compete at the highest level of collegiate athletics. Student-athlete welfare and academic excellence have always been paramount in the Mountain West and will continue to be at the forefront of the discussion as we enter this new era of Division I. The Mountain West already has begun to involve student-athletes in its governance structure with the participation of two student-athletes at its spring 2014 Board of Directors meeting.
"This type of engagement will further enhance the overall experience of the student-athlete. The Mountain West membership has been actively engaged in conversations about the governance redesign for some time and we look forward to continuing the dialogue throughout the implementation phase of the new structure."
Contributing: Jeff Call
Contributing: Jeff Call