Student Athletes Could Get Vote on NCAA Governance

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

NCAAAs Northwestern student athletes are in the midst of an attempt to form a union, the NCAA is considering adding a student athlete to the Board of Directors that would vote on legislation for Division I. A post on the NCAA’s website says the steering committee working on the restructuring of Division I will deliver a proposed governance model this spring so that it can be discussed at the spring meetings held by the various athletic conferences. 

“We are leaning toward a board of 17 presidents, but we are considering adding additional voices to the boardroom,” said Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch, who is both chairman of the current Board of Directors and of the steering committee. “We have yet to decide whether these new positions would have a vote or not.”

Currently, student athletes have non-voting seats on some of the councils which report to the Board of Directors. They’ve never had a seat on the Board of Directors, not even in a non-voting capacity. No doubt this will be one of the issues discussed by conferences this spring.

While the Northwestern student athletes are seeking to unionize as employees of the University, not as employees of the NCAA, it’s an issue the NCAA is no doubt taking into consideration, because at its heart the NCAA is really just the member institutions working in concert. NCAA President Mark Emmert is not a dictator who signs new regulations into existence on his own. Member institutions vote on all those rules and regulations, and currently they all have an equal voice.

That’s why it’s so difficult for the five “power conferences” to pass anything with regards to stipends or anything else largely driven by football and its revenue – every institution in Division I (a total of 351 institutions for 2013-2014), including those who play football at the FCS level, or who don’t play football at all, votes on all legislation. In the end, there are more Division I institutions not in the power five conferences than there are in those five conferences.

Under the model being proposed by the steering committee, there would be a decision-making body called, the “Council.” That group would be made up of potentially 38 members: one from each conference (likely athletic directors), two student athletes and four conference commissioners. The athletic director who chairs the Council would likely have a seat on the Board of Directors.

The new model also suggests that the five power conferences might have some, “legislative autonomy” when it comes to football, meaning those conferences could essentially make some of their own rules. As you can imagine, that would likely increase the gulf between the so-called haves and have-nots in college football. However, it could mean greater benefits for student athletes in a number of areas, as the institutions in the power conferences are really the only ones producing net revenue in football.

However, the steering committee still wants an override option for the members of Division I. Whether or not that override would apply to football-specific legislation by the five power conferences is unclear. Currently, it only takes 75 override requests (from the total 351 member institutions) for proposed legislation to go to an override vote, wherein a 5/8 majority of voting schools can defeat the proposal. The steering committee is proposing raising the number of votes required for an override in the future.

So, how soon could we see these changes to Division I governance and a real voice for student athletes (with potentially two student athletes on the Council and one of the Board of Directors)? The Board of Directors hopes to adopt at least the basic structure by August. 

Here’s my question: does the potential good for student athletes outweigh the potential negative impact on the non-power conferences at the FBS level?

Kristi A. Dosh is an attorney and founder of Her latest book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires, is available now. Visit for retailers and a sneak peak at the first chapter! Follow her on Twitter: @SportsBizMiss.

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1 Comment
  • Brandon Caron
    March 10, 2014

    I would be surprised if this happens, but I am glad that the student athlete will have some sort of voice. Those in administration preach amateurism yet these student athletes have no voice…that sounds pretty corporate!