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NCAA Votes To Boost Student-Athletes’ Benefits, Big Schools’ Power

NCAA President Mark Emmert on Capitol Hill

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 9, 2014, before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the NCAA's treatment of athletes. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Major college sports programs have taken what could be a major step toward sharing their wealth with the student-athletes whose performances help line their coffers.  Thursday's vote impacts the Power 5 conferences, including the Big Ten.

The 16-2 vote gives the five biggest athletic conferences autonomy in making certain rules and provide so-called enhanced benefits to student-athletes.

"I am immensely proud of the work done by the membership," said NCAA President Mark Emmert, in a press release.  "The new governance model represents a compromise on all sides that will better serve our members and, most importantly, our student-athletes.  These changes will help all our schools better support the young people who come to college to play sports while earning a degree."

Following Thursday's vote by the Division I Board of Directors, there is a 60-day period for all 351 Division I schools to weigh in. If at least 75 of the schools ask for the vote to be overridden, the board has to reconsider and perhaps tweak the plan. If at least 125 schools want an override, the plan will be suspended.

Supporters of the proposal say it will let them enact changes that are long overdue. The 65 schools in these conferences — the Pac-12, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference — sometimes have felt constricted by the current structure, in which smaller Division I schools and conferences can band together and prevent legislation from passing.

A few years ago, for instance, there was a plan to allow schools to give scholarship athletes an additional $2,000 annual stipend. 

The proposal pitted big schools that could afford the extra money against smaller schools that couldn't, and that there were enough of the latter to table the measure.

The vote Thursday lets the schools in those Big Five conferences set their own rules relating to student-athlete benefits without approval of the nearly 300 other Division I schools.

So if you're an athlete at one of those Big Five schools, you could be in line for some additional benefits. The biggest one is that your school could make your athletic scholarship "whole" — studies show that many of these scholarships often come a few thousand dollars short of covering the actual cost of going to college.

Another possible benefit is improved health care. Critics say athletes aren't properly covered, which can be a real problem in violent sports such as football.

Yet another possible change — among the more controversial — is that these schools could make rules allowing athletes to sign with agents while they're still in school. As long as no money is exchanged, they could negotiate future endorsement deals.

Critics say that granting autonomy to schools in these five conferences will give them a greater competitive advantage than they already have.

Boise State University is a non-Big Five school that has had some success in football, and the school's president has been very vocal in his criticism.

"The NCAA cannot fall prey to phony arguments about student welfare when the real goal of some of these so-called reformers is to create a plutocracy of athletic programs that serves no useful purpose in American higher education," President Bob Kustra wrote in a letter sent to CBS Sports and other media outlets.

"We are taking the lid off the controls that the NCAA has had on athetic expenidtures for a number of years," said Kustra, a former Illinois lieutenant governor and legislator, in an interview with Illinois Public Media.  "All it's going to do is put increasing pressure on all kinds of programs across the country.  Whether you're the Big Ten, or you're a smaller conference, it's all about keeping up with your neighbor."