It didn’t taken long for the Power Five conferences to take advantage of recently granted autonomy to set new rules for member universities, and the pace of change appears to be gaining speed.
In August, the NCAA board of directors voted to give the Power Five – the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Southeastern Conference – greater autonomy to adopt new policies designed to improve the student-athlete experience. This week, the Big Ten became the first conference to announce that all of its member institutions will guarantee scholarships for the duration of an athlete’s enrollment. The move follows news in late September, that the University of South Carolina would become the first school in the SEC to guarantee four-year scholarships for student athletes.
As a result, Big Ten student-athletes will receive guaranteed scholarships that will not be reduced or cancelled as long as the athlete “remains a member in good standing with the community, the university, and the athletics department,” the Big Ten said in a statement. An athlete who leaves a university will now have the opportunity to return and complete an undergraduate degree with the guaranteed scholarship.
This is a major change from prior policies that allowed only single-year scholarships with no promise that the scholarships would continue in the future. The development also represents a major benefit for athletes who leave college early to play professional sports or for other reasons, and who return later to finish earning their degrees.
The news from the Big Ten is only the latest of many moves by the big conferences to take advantage of increased autonomy and implement changes benefitting athletes. The NCAA and universities are focused on increasing the value of scholarships to cover the full cost of education, increasing insurance coverage and decreasing medical expenses, and improving responses to concussions and other serious injuries, among other things. The Power Five appear poised to continue to implement non-controversial improvements quickly. However, we should not expect the same rapid, groundbreaking changes regarding more challenging issues, such as student-athlete compensation or student-athlete contact with agents.