As college athletes return to campus this fall, the classrooms, dorm rooms and weight rooms may seem similar. But the ground under the feet of many athletes has shifted in subtle but meaningful ways. With major reforms continuing rapidly in college athletics, numerous key rule changes have gone into effect this year. How will they change college athletes’ lives? Read on to find out …

The autonomy conferences – the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern – voted at January’s NCAA Convention to redefine athletics scholarships to include the federally reported full cost of attendance. College athletes in those conferences who receive full scholarships will now collect additional funds to cover the difference between what their athletics scholarship traditionally covered and the additional expenses that come from attending their school. So in addition to tuition, fees, books and room and board, the scholarship will also include expenses such as academic-related supplies and transportation, among others. The value of those benefits can differ from campus to campus, and all Division I schools can choose to participate, as well.


Autonomy schools adopt cost of attendance scholarships

New Division I initial eligibility standards will apply to athletes who plan to enroll at Division I schools in August 2016 or later. They require a minimum 2.3 grade-point average in high school core courses and an SAT or ACT score that is matched to their GPA on a sliding scale. The new standards, which were approved in 2012 but will be implemented in 2016 in order to give high school students adequate time to prepare, hold student-athletes to higher academic standards than the previous regulations.


Get the grades
New eligibility standards start in 2016

As a result of an autonomy conference vote at the January 2015 NCAA Convention, scholarships in those conferences may no longer be revoked based on athletic performance. Scholarships are not entirely guaranteed and can be revoked for other reasons, such as behavioral issues, but athletic aptitude is no longer one of those criteria at the 65 autonomy schools. The proposal has also been adopted by several conferences outside the autonomy group.


Guaranteed scholarships generate discussion

Beach volleyball was recently approved for championship status by all divisions, allowing the sport to elevate from the emerging sports list and become an official NCAA championship. Since 1994, when the NCAA began supporting emerging sports for women, participation by females has nearly doubled. In 2015, 209,472 women participated in NCAA sports.


Sand volleyball becomes association’s 90th championship
Emerging sports for women

All schools are required to create and adhere to concussion management plans. Starting this year, though, the autonomy schools’ protocols must be reviewed by a committee of experts and posted publicly to help ensure accountability. The Southeastern Conference proposed the rule, which was also endorsed by the NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports and adopted at the 2015 NCAA Convention.


A full list of concussion safety protocols
Competitive safeguards committee supports concussion proposal
NCAA approves experimental rule allowing medical observers in football

Student-athletes have a stronger voice in the decision-making processes of Divisions I and II. In Division I, three athletes from each of the five autonomy conferences have votes in the governance structure, in addition to other athlete representation on the Division I Board of Directors, Council and Council subcommittees. In Division II, two members of the national SAAC will have a vote on the Management Council, and the SAAC also will have a vote at the NCAA Convention. Division III athletes already have similar Management Council voting power.


Division I athletes raising their voices – and votes
Division II athletes earn votes

The Division II membership recently adopted legislation that would allow schools to provide unlimited meals and snacks for all student-athletes in conjunction with their athletics participation. Division I passed similar legislation that went into effect last year. Division II’s decision was made as part of the division’s ongoing efforts to deregulate restrictive rules and ensure appropriate benefits for its student-athletes.


Division II adopts meals legislation
Food for thought

Like their peers in Division I and Division II, Division III recruits are now allowed to have a memorable signing experience. At the 2015 NCAA Convention, Division III members approved legislation that lets their schools’ recruits sign a standard, nonbinding athletics celebratory signing form, which will be crafted by the NCAA and distributed to Division III schools. Those institutions can affix their school letterhead to the form and provide it to the student-athletes, who can sign the form at a ceremony with friends and family – much like their counterparts in other divisions.


Division III athletes want to sign, too
Division III signing form legislation passes at NCAA Convention

In January, more than 500 Division II athletes and administrators gathered at the NCAA Convention to vote for a new moniker to replace “I chose Division II.” The slogan “Make it yours” won in a landslide and is now available for Division II schools to use on signage and other materials. More than 400 student-athletes weighed in on the direction of the logo’s design through surveys and will soon see the mark and logo they helped create peppered throughout their athletics facilities and at Division II events.


Making it theirs
Division II begins rollout of ‘Make It Yours’ logo

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9 ways life is changing for college athletes