NCAA takes first step in reorganization with early draft of new constitution

The NCAA would shift most of the rules-making authority from the central office to the three competitive divisions and their conferences, according to a Monday draft.

The document, which will be discussed further during a special NCAA convention Nov. 15, represents the first step in a fundamental reorganization of how NCAA sports operate. Over the years, the association’s leadership has come under intense pressure from federal and state legislators as well as members schools and courts. These issues range from rules enforcement to athlete welfare.

The draft includes increased participation of athletes on governing boards, and attempts to address health, gender equality and diversity. It does not include the enforceable standards for health that some members of Congress have requested.

Monday’s proposal was designed to open the door for deeper governance discussions within each division. In the high-profile Division I – whose roughly 350 schools are held together primarily by the men’s basketball tournament — those conversations have the potential to become contentious and follow the various financial fault lines among blocs of schools.

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There are differences not only among the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Football Championship Subdivision and the schools that do not have football teams, but also within the FBS – where schools from the Power Five conferences sometimes feel they are being constrained by schools in the Group of Five conferences. The current constitution of the NCAA includes both general operating principles for the association and details on voting procedures for Division I’s major rules-making groups, such as its Board of Directors or Council.

The draft says each of the three divisions “shall have the independent authority to organize itself,” which includes determining its own governing structure and membership, setting its own standards for academic eligibility and determining “the methods of investigation and adjudication” of rules violations. Rules enforcement is a hot topic. Many NCAA investigations have been dragging on for years, often resulting in sanctions against athletes who joined such programs years later. While the draft constitution defers to the divisions on the specifics, it calls for each division’s enforcement setup to “prescribe appropriate penalties in a timely manner” and “ensure to the greatest extent possible that penalties imposed for infractions do not punish programs or student-athletes innocent of the infraction(s).”

The draft would reduce the size of the NCAA’s top association-wide rules-making group, the Board of Governors, from 21 members to nine and require that one of the nine be a “graduated NCAA student-athlete, who shall have graduated not more than four years prior to appointment.” At present, athletes have no voting representation on the Board of Governors, which primarily comprises college presidents. An outside law firm has examined the association’s commitment towards gender equality in its championships. This was in response to revelations of inequal treatment of Division I women’s and men’s basketball players. The NCAA’s activities will be conducted without gender bias . However, the new constitution would also require that schools’ athletic programs have “independent healthcare administrators” and “athletics diversity & inclusion designer.” Schools “will still have the ability to assign duties to each position to best serve the needs of the school and student-athletes.”

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