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DI schools outside autonomy group ponder how to work together

Eighty percent of the division is outside the five conferences that have autonomy to make their own rules

David Hopkins, president of Wright State University, details the conversations that took place during the first FCS and Division I Conferences meeting.

The restructuring of Division I that unfolded over the last several months focused on the five conferences that now have decision-making power to set some rules for their members.

But those conferences contain just 65 schools, which still dwell under the roof of Division I. The portion of the division that participates in the Football Championship Subdivision or does not sponsor football as a varsity sport met Saturday afternoon to discuss how the five conferences’ limited autonomy will affect the rest of them.

“It was an important opportunity for the FCS and the Division I members to get together and have a dialogue,” said Robin Harris, executive director of the Council of Ivy League Presidents. “This is a seminal moment. We need ongoing opportunities to talk about these issues.”

The meeting drew about 500 athletics administrators, conference commissioners and university presidents interested in how the division will conduct business now that the five autonomous athletics conferences have their own legislative process.

Much of the session involved discussion about the myriad questions regarding how this new governance structure will work – not in terms of who will serve on committees and how the voting will operate, but of the practicalities of how Division I will work together.

Some of the chief concerns raised Saturday were similar to the issues Division I members considered before voting to put their new governance structure in place. Among the questions: How should the new Division I prioritize the many issues it must tackle? How can Division I be more proactive in the sharing of positive stories about the student-athlete experience? How can Division I ensure that rules adopted by the autonomy group do not create unfair on-field advantages or diminish access to national championships for the other schools in the division? And will NCAA staff continue to be attentive to the needs of Division I schools outside the five conferences with autonomy?

The group will be looking to the newly created Council, the chief legislative body in Division I, to resolve many of the concerns discussed Saturday.

Some of the decisions made by the autonomy group, which completed its first-ever votes while the rest of Division I was meeting, steered the discussion. In particular, many of those schools had questions about how they will be affected by the autonomy group’s decision to expand the definition of a full grant-in-aid in its conferences, which had traditionally included tuition and fees, room and board and required course-related books, to now include other expenses related to attendance at the institution. 

The meeting was moderated by David Hopkins, president of Wright State University, a Division I school that does not sponsor football. The results of the autonomy group’s votes were presented halfway through the meeting, and Hopkins said he sensed that the non-autonomy Division I members gathered were not surprised by the vote outcomes.

“The people in this group want to know, ‘As they pass legislation, how does that affect what we do?’” Hopkins said. “They are vested in their student-athletes and are trying to understand autonomy.”