NCAA reluctantly faces its overdue ‘transformation’

Greg Sankey
Photo by Charles Hallman

Another View

Change and the NCAA historically has been an oxymoron. Nonetheless, college sport’s governing body has been dealing with unexpected changes while still trying to maintain its stonewall anti-change existence.

The NIL (name, image and likeness) issue continues to be controversial, forcing the NCAA last week to announce that it will better enforce its rules, such as boosters using NIL deals to lure athletes to a particular school. Some argue that these deals are already creating a haves-versus-have-nots system. 

Are these deals, which must be approved by the school, really benefiting the players who sign them? Others argue NIL deals are a prelude to pay-for-play, which the NCAA and others have fought against for decades. 

And once again the NCAA finds themselves in court. Black college athletes represented by the National College Players Association (NCPA) have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging their civil rights are being violated because their compensation is being capped. 

Right now, a college athlete can get a scholarship that includes room, board, books, tuition, cost of attendance, and educational benefits that can’t go over $6,000. Athletes also have access to medical benefits and a student assistance fund. 

The NCPA argues that capping compensation causes “a disparate impact on Black college students,” many of whom come from financially disadvantaged families. The NCAA has lost similar lawsuits in court in recent years: O’Bannon v. NCAA (2014) and Alston v. NCAA (2021).

 Earlier this year at its annual convention, NCAA members adopted a new constitution that gives each of the three divisions the power to rewrite their own rules to suit their needs. Other changes being seriously discussed involve big school football conferences doing away with divisions, which were created to set up league championships. 

And, the NCAA president unexpectedly announced his retirement, which some believe will fast-track any significant changes while also searching for a new prez.  

The NCAA Transformation Committee, a group of 21 persons who are in various college sport roles, is charged with addressing Division I’s most significant challenges and supposedly still meet the needs of current and future student-athletes. According to its website, three big questions were focused on thus far this year: What it means to be a Division I student-athlete, meeting the needs of today’s student-athletes, and what changes must be made to NCAA rules to meet what is happening today in college sport.

The NCAA officials “were really good at writing rules [but] not good at taking them away,” Committee Co-Chair Greg Sankey told reporters in a brief media scrum held at the Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis. The NCAA rulebook is over 400 pages. 

Sankey, the SEC commissioner, later told the MSR, “So how do we move away a bit from the NCAA manual being the dominant point of decisions for athletic departments? …So one of the issues that’s changed over time is transfers,” such as the current transfer portal system, he noted. 

“How do we continue to modernize? Are there opportunities to provide a more consistent experience across Division I, because it varies widely?”

Asked about the committee’s diversity makeup—four of the 21 group members are Black— Sankey pointed out, “That’s just part of the effort to make sure we have a diversity of opinions that can be considered. We’re committed to reaching beyond that committee to get the solutions… We know we have to go beyond voices immediately in the room.  

“There are a lot of constituencies who might wish to be in that room,” concluded Sankey. “So, we’ve got to find a way to engage them in the process, even if they’re not on calls.”