INDIANAPOLIS – NCAA President Mark Emmert believes college sports can address the concerns of union organizers without changing the entire model.
Emmert acknowledged Wednesday, in an interview with The Associated Press, that under a proposed new governance structure, the richest sports programs would have the autonomy to provide more money and more counseling and perhaps even more protections to student-athletes. He also thinks the new structure could help finance the travel of athletes' families to postseason tournaments.
His comments come one day before the NCAA's board of directors is to discuss a series of proposals that could change college sports.
The agenda includes debate over a new governance structure that would allow the five biggest football conferences to implement some legislation on their own, expand meal plans and change transfer rules.
While some outsiders may see this as a response to Friday's scheduled union vote at Northwestern, Emmert noted that these changes have been in the pipeline for months and even years.
"I think one of the most interesting responses to the Northwestern conversation is that when the student-athlete said 'Here's what we're worried about,' I said, 'This is what we've been working on for some time,'" Emmert said, referring to former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter. "These are things we've been talking about since the summer of 2011 and now a lot of it is about to come fruition. It's taken longer than we wanted to get where we need to be, but here it is."
Last week, the Legislative Council approved giving athletes unlimited meal plans and snacks both in and outside their sport seasons. That proposal could be approved Thursday in Indianapolis.
The board also is expected to consider a measure that would allow some transfer students to be granted an extra year of eligibility, though they would still be required to sit out one full season when changing schools.
But the bigger debate will center around changing how the NCAA operates.
The 57-page draft proposal would allow the 65 schools in the five biggest football conferences to implement some legislation — such as expanding scholarship benefits to cover the full cost-of-attendance, money that goes beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees, and additional academic and career counseling.
Emmert also hopes it could lead to expanded insurance coverage and perhaps smaller time commitments for an athlete to compete in their sport without getting bogged down by the usual legislative obstacles.
"There's a (broad) recognition that It's the intention of the membership and my hope that with the governance (proposal) in place, we can come to quicker resolutions about ways to help student-athletes," Emmert said.