As N.C.A.A. Rewrites Its Rules, Here’s How College Sports May Change

Nearly five months after a unanimous defeat at the Supreme Court, the N.C.A.A. will hold a special convention on Monday as it looks to rewrite its constitution and limit its legal risks in the future.

Delegates will consider a proposal that Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary and former Texas A&M president, and a committee of conference commissioners, athletic directors, university presidents and athletes prepared in recent months.

“I don’t know about the word ‘transformational,’ but I think it represents pretty dramatic change in a number of different areas,” Gates, an N.C.A.A. board member who wrote the first draft of the proposal himself one weekend, said in an interview with The New York Times on Thursday.

Here is a look at what the Gates committee came up with, and the path ahead for the N.C.A.A., which could vote on a new constitution in January.

Would athletes be allowed to make money?

Yes and no.

The draft calls for students to be able to make money off their fame through activities like endorsement deals and autograph signings, a concept known in the college sports industry as name, image and likeness activity. But students have been able to do that since July, when an interim N.C.A.A. policy took effect after a wave of state laws forced the association’s hand. The rewritten constitution would make the stopgap changes more permanent.

As usual, the N.C.A.A. is looking to forbid schools from paying players directly, and the draft calls for the association to declare that students “may not be compensated by a member institution for participating in a sport.”

But in a concession to the Supreme Court decision in June, the proposal says students should be allowed to receive “educational benefits,” including cash awards for academic achievement, in addition to whatever money they are able to earn off their names, images and likenesses.

Still, Jordan Bohannon, a men’s basketball player at Iowa, said the proposal’s limits made it inadequate.

“This is America, and college athletes have rights and freedoms that the N.C.A.A. cannot deny,” he said in a statement released by the National College Players Association.

The group’s executive director, Ramogi Huma, said that the proposal amounted to “more of the same from the N.C.A.A.” and that it would spark “more of the same from us — pursuing governmental action to fight for justice.”

So what might be different?

Each N.C.A.A. division — including Division I, whose brand-name schools and enormous revenues dominate public perceptions of college athletics — may win the power to govern itself.

The draft says that each division should “have independent authority to organize itself,” within the limits of overarching N.C.A.A. principles like a ban on direct salaries, and that each could create new divisions or subdivisions. That kind of power could eventually pave the way for top-tier athletic powers to have their own rules and system but remain under the N.C.A.A.’s umbrella.

The three divisions are expected to finish initial rewrites of their rules by the start of the 2022-23 academic year.

The process for investigating and punishing N.C.A.A. rules violations could also change.

A critique of the existing rules enforcement system is that protracted inquiries can lead to punishments, like postseason bans, for players and coaches who had little or nothing to do with any violations. In response to that, the proposal calls for divisions to “ensure to the greatest extent possible that penalties imposed for infractions do not punish programs or student-athletes innocent” of any violations.

Anything else?

The Board of Governors, which has ultimate authority over the N.C.A.A. but has been criticized as detached, could shrink to nine voting members from 21. One of the nine would be a recently graduated athlete. (A smaller board was no given: Gates said his committee considered an array of models, including one that would have pushed the board’s size to 28 members.)

The committee has proposed removing the N.C.A.A.’s existing, detailed nondiscrimination pledge from the constitution, prompting criticism from groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally. The leaders of those organizations, Joni Madison and Hudson Taylor, urged N.C.A.A. leaders last week to include an “enumerated policy providing nondiscrimination protections for all athletes.”

Gates argued that the draft’s provisions on diversity and gender equity “are pretty strong statements that discrimination won’t be tolerated.”

Those sections declare that the N.C.A.A. is “committed to diversity and inclusion,” say that conferences and schools “shall create diverse and inclusive environments” and that divisions, conferences and schools have the responsibility to follow laws concerning gender equity. College sports activities, the draft adds, “shall be conducted in a manner free of gender bias,” a subject that surfaced widely this year after disparities between the men’s and women’s Division I basketball tournaments.

But some longstanding N.C.A.A. systems and policies are likely to remain the same or close to it. A 1996 formula for revenue allocations for Divisions II and III, for instance, will probably stay untouched, in no small part because the schools in those divisions control most of the votes inside the N.C.A.A.

Will this affect the College Football Playoff’s possible expansion?

No. Ten conferences and Notre Dame run the playoff, and the N.C.A.A. has no control over it.

Any changes to Division I could ultimately influence the playoff and the universities that reach it, but the word “playoff” does not even appear in the draft constitution.

Why is the N.C.A.A. doing this?

Mostly because it realizes it does not have much choice.

The N.C.A.A. has been a legal pincushion for years, and it has lately come under scrutiny not just from the courts but also politicians at the state and federal levels. The Supreme Court’s ruling this summer, though, alarmed many industry officials because it left the N.C.A.A. even more vulnerable to challenges under antitrust law.

The push to rewrite the constitution amounts to an effort to give the N.C.A.A. more legal cover, though Gates denied that was the association’s principal motivation. Either way, some scholars are skeptical that the N.C.A.A. will improve its legal position significantly and believe that the association will still wind up fighting plenty of court battles.

When could these changes take hold?

Monday’s convention is just one step. A five-day feedback period will follow. Then the Gates committee, which held eight virtual meetings, as well as in-person sessions in Chicago and Denver, will review the submissions before opening a second opportunity for feedback. Gates’s panel will submit its final recommendations to the board on Dec. 15, the same day that N.C.A.A. members may begin to propose amendments.

The N.C.A.A. expects to vote on a new constitution on Jan. 20. More months of work will follow, though, as Divisions I, II and III sort through their own plans.

Gates predicted members would offer amendments, but said he would be “quite surprised if this constitution or something that looks very much like it” did not pass. But he said he had not begun counting votes.

This seems like a mess.

Well, it is the N.C.A.A.

Asked in a September interview with The Times whether the N.C.A.A. or the Pentagon had the more daunting organization chart, Gates laughed and replied: “Well, they’re comparable — and incomprehensible. They look like an AT&T wiring diagram.”

But a lot of people will get to have a say before the N.C.A.A makes any substantive changes, especially changes that could ease all, or even some, of the bureaucracy.

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