By Bernie Wilson | Associated Press
SAN DIEGO -- Nearly 60 percent of Division I administrators, commissioners and other officials attending the NCAA convention support the concept of autonomy for the nation's five most powerful conferences on issues that could include giving athletes a stipend toward the full cost of attending college.
The straw vote Friday was part of a larger, two-day discussion about a new governance structure for the NCAA.
The conferences that could be granted autonomy are the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12.
In electronic voting by more than 800 attendees, 27 percent indicated they strongly supported autonomy "on certain undefined issues" still to be determined, while 31 percent expressed support. Eight percent were neutral, 13 percent opposed it and 4 percent strongly opposed it.
"I think it is encouraging," said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. "That puts us on a good path to autonomy. There's still a lot to do, to be honest. All it is is a poll, but it gives the steering committee and the board a sense of concrete direction."
The straw vote "was indicative of the fact that people have thought about the issues," Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "I would have rather it be 78 percent instead of 58 percent, but we need to go about the process of articulating why the changes are important to us."
NCAA President Mark Emmert called the suggested overall changes to the governance structure a "winnowing process" that still has a ways to go. A seven-person steering committee overseeing the process is scheduled to meet again next month with a goal of getting an updated model of the proposed changes to the membership by April and having it approved by summer.
The key in overhauling the NCAA's governance structure is giving high-resource conferences and schools an opportunity to make some decisions on their own -- such as implementing an athlete stipend toward the full cost of attendance, money that goes beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees.
In October 2011, the NCAA approved a measure allowing conferences to award athletes up to $2,000 more per year. Most of the big conferences quickly adopted the measure. But two months later, there was so much opposition from other Division I schools that the rule was put on hold.
Since then, Emmert has supported bringing back the stipend, though no formal proposal has been made.
There appears to be room for debate on stipends.
"I'd say that among the five conferences there's unanimity on that, but the vote within each of the five conferences would not be unanimous," Bowlsby said. "We're still talking about structure. There's a lot of plumbing and electricity that goes in underneath all this. We really haven't even begun the process of talking about those kind of specifics. There are a lot of other things as well."
Last summer, commissioners of each of the so-called power conferences used their media days to lobby for changes to the way the NCAA does business. Nathan Hatch, the president at Wake Forest, an Atlantic Coast Conference school, and others heard the concerns and insist the debate is not just about giving money to players. They want schools to provide additional resources that will help student-athletes with everything from academics to health.
While some people refer to the concept of stipends as pay-for-play, administrators say the correct term is full cost-of-attendance.
On Thursday night, Hatch said he's generally opposed to paying athletes in marquee sports such as football and basketball. He said it could have damaging effects on other sports, particularly women's sports.
"I think it gives the wrong incentives for why someone should be a student-athlete," he said. "Another issue in our free-market economy, it is the case that generally the star athlete gets paid more. I think that's the kind of direction this would go if in fact we paid athletes. So we'd be recruiting athletes and potentially pay substantial amounts to get stars."
In another straw vote, 75 percent supported the fundamental principle of president-chancellor control of intercollegiate athletics.