It is conventional wisdom in college athletics that student-athletes as essentially forced to accept what’s offered to them. To a degree, that’s true. Agreements like the National Letter of Intent can’t be renegotiated. Amateurism and extra benefit rules prevent student-athletes from accepting that which others are more than willing to offer them. And student-athletes can’t vote on legislation that affects them.
That’s not to say that student-athletes have no voice in the NCAA. The national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) comments on legislation affecting student-athletes. The Legislative Council and Board of Directors gives those comments more credit that you might think.
That was clearly evident in January when the Division I National SAAC scored a major, albeit temporary victory in the legislative process. Proposal 2010-12, which removes the requirement that override votes occur at the NCAA Convention, was opposed by SAAC, since the Convention was the best place for SAAC to make their views on these votes known.
The Legislative Council passed the legislation by an overwhelming margin, with over 90% voting to approve the proposal. But the Board of Directors tabled the proposal, allowing for more discussion amongst the university presidents before finalizing the proposal in April.
But what if SAAC had a vote on the Legislative Council. SAAC could be able to give not just an opinion, but cast a vote on any issue directly affecting student-athletes. Those would include:
- Any Bylaw 10 (ethical conduct) issue affecting student-athletes;
- All of Bylaw 12 (amateurism);
- All of Bylaw 13 (recruiting);
- All of Bylaw 14 (eligibility);
- All of Bylaw 15 (financial aid);
- All of Bylaw 16 (awards and benefits); and
- All of Bylaw 17 (playing and practice seasons).
That would mean student-athletes generally aren’t voting on issues involving athletics personnel, and administrative or procedural matters. As a national cabinet, SAAC would still have the opportunity to comment on these proposals. And as a voting member of the legislative coucil, SAAC could be given the same power to propose legislation that conferences have.
The practical affect of giving student-athletes a vote would be dependent on how many votes they are given. The Legislative Council is organized by conference with weighted voting. BCS conferences and Conference USA have three votes. The other FBS conferences have 1.5 votes. And the other Division I conferences have 1.2 votes.
If the Division I SAAC was given three votes, which would be logical given the group represents over 150,000 athletes, it could upset the balance of power in Division I. Currently there are 51 votes in the Legislative Council, and 27 of them are controlled by FBS conferences. This means if the 11 FBS conferences vote as a bloc, they control a slim majority. If SAAC had three votes and voted with the other conferences, it would result in a 27-27 tie.
But the conferences rarely vote in such strict patterns, so it’s hard to predict whether SAAC would have such a powerful impact on legislation. In fact during the April Legislative Council meeting, the only issues that were decided by three votes or less were FCS-only issues. In the January voting session, which is a little more complicated, three SAAC votes might have sway a proposal between adoption or distribution for membership review in some cases.
There’s two arguments for not giving student-athletes a seat the legislative table. First is that if the constituent groups in the Legislative Council are expanded beyond conferences, expect other groups to demand a seat. Coaches associations, groups like NAAC and N4A, and public groups will begin agitating for a seat. This will turn what is still a relatively flexible legislative body into something very large and unwieldy.
Second, what happened with Proposal 2010-12 is unlikely to happen again if student-athletes are represented in the voting. Because they are disenfranchised in the governance structure, the Board of Directors gave their objections extra weight. Student-athletes with the vote will likely have to accept the result of votes.
Neither of those objections are reason not to explore adding SAAC to the Legislative Council. Lines need to be drawn somewhere. And if Division I SAAC believes its interests are better represented without a vote, that’s a decision for the student-athletes to make.
Oddly enough, the Legislative Council would be the ones to decide whether to add student-athletes to their ranks, and a conference or cabinet would need to introduce the proposal in the first place. But just like the Board of Directors did with Proposal 2010-12, the Legislative Council is known to surprise when trying to predict what they’ll do based on conventional wisdom.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.