NCAA Transformation Committee recommends expanded postseason access, sports committees

The NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee, the entity tasked with charting the course for the future of Division I over the past year, has finished its final report and submitted its reform recommendations to the DI Board of Directors. The Board has been briefed but will formally consider the recommendations at its meeting next week at the NCAA’s annual convention.

Among the recommendations were a push for DI team sports sponsored by more than 200 institutions to consider expanding their postseason fields — clearing the way for sports such as basketball and baseball to expand their tournaments, if desired — and an advice that football governance remain under the Purview of the NCAA.

“There’s a certain magic to college sports that cannot be easily described,” Transformation Committee co-chair Julie Cromer said. “We think the big tent — a large, diverse Division I — is part of that magic. It’s worth working through the issues we see today to keep it intact.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Transformation Committee is recommending that DI team sports sponsored by more than 200 institutions should try to implement a postseason that includes 25 percent of the teams that meet the Division I standard in the sport. Final decisions on changes to the size of each sport’s postseason bracket would need to be approved by that sport’s governing body by January 2024 for implementation in the 2024-25 academic year.
  • The committee is also recommending the formation of sport-specific management committees. Each Division I sport that has a national championship will have its own entity, and these management committees will have decision-making power and the ability to move quickly without bureaucratic delays.
  • It is recommending a new requirement that all Division I schools provide medical coverage for athletics-related injuries for a minimum of two years following graduation or completion of athletics experience. The requirement would be part of a more “holistic” athlete benefits model. Another part of the new model would require schools to pay for athletes who were on full scholarships to get their degrees within 10 years of leaving school.

Other recommendations of note: The group recommended that FBS reconsider its football attendance requirement “while focusing on other elements that more directly link the student-athlete experience to expectations for FBS membership criteria.” The NCAA requires an average attendance of 15,000 fans per game once every two years to maintain FBS status, a measure meant to incentivize investment in football, but calls for the requirement to be lifted have gained momentum in recent years.

The committee decided against changing the minimum number of sports sponsored to be a Division I member at this time, but it did recommend that the board direct appropriate entities to review it in the future, “including consideration of a model in which institutions are not permitted to count a sport toward meeting minimum sports-sponsorship requirements unless it demonstrates a certain level of financial commitment to student-athlete scholarships in that sport.”

Championship sizes

Asking each sport to implement a postseason big enough to include 25 percent of the institutions that sponsor it may end with different results for different sports. What makes sense for one may not for another.

What will happen to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? It’s a question almost everyone in college sports has asked at some point in the last six months, and the answers vary depending on who you talk to. Do the math, and 25 percent of 363 teams would lead to a field of around 90 teams. But a bloated bracket may not be inevitable. The next step in this process will be in the hands of the sport’s stakeholders.

“Their considerations should account for impacts on the timing of the postseason, the total length of the postseason, necessary format changes, broadcast and other partners, budget resources, and host entity event management implications,” the committee’s report states.

This issue will now go to those in charge of the men’s basketball oversight committee for an initial review by June 2023 and a final recommendation by January 2024 for implementation in March 2025, if any changes are agreed upon.

“It’s a positive step forward in decision-making, that those recommendations will land with the various sports management committees, assuming they are adopted into a new structure,” said Cromer, who also serves on the DI men’s basketball oversight committee. “Each sport will have the opportunity to take a comprehensive look at what the impact of expanded brackets might be and whether or not it’s something they should pursue for their particular championship.”

Governance reform

The most significant change to the governance structure is the formation of sports management committees, which will be empowered to govern their individual sports without approval from the multiple layers of bureaucracy synonymous with the current NCAA model.

“So many other sports don’t have oversight groups, and now, they’ll have the opportunity for them to take a larger hand in shaping the future of their sports at the collegiate level — which I think is great,” Cromer told The Athletic in December. “Whether it’s two years, three, four or five years, you’ll start to see different rules for different sports that make more sense specifically for them. They’ll be able to work more quickly and be more responsive to their sports. That’s a huge step forward, particularly with some of the other work we’ve done trying to help support the Olympic movement.”

The athlete experience and athlete engagement

The committee’s report stresses the importance of standardizing the experience for Division I athletes, regardless of school, sport and gender. By setting expectations (ie minimum requirements) for Division I members, the hope is to ensure athletes have the support they need in areas ranging from academic services to medical coverage to mental health resources.

The “holistic student-athlete benefits model” includes eight areas where schools are urged to commit, including required medical coverage for injuries for a minimum of two years following graduation, assistance for out-of-pocket medical expenses and the ability for athletes on full scholarships to complete their degree within 10 years of leaving school. Other requirements would include increasing services in areas such as NIL, financial literacy and career preparation. There are also recommendations related to championships that increase the amount of money spent on travel.

The committee also called for an increase in direct athlete involvement in each level of their sports’ governance structures.

Topics for future consideration

Cromer and co-chair Greg Sankey have tried to manage expectations for the committee throughout the last year — and especially in recent months — so administrators and fans wouldn’t be disappointed in their work to reform college sports. They didn’t ask to be labeled “transformative.” Some of their earlier reform efforts, on transfer windows and the NCAA infractions process, were underwhelmed after calls for sweeping changes came from both inside and outside of the collegiate structure.

For the biggest topics that the Transformation Committee talked about but could not tackle at this time, the committee is hoping that the Board of Directors will either address them itself or assign other entities to consider them in the future. Those topics include the use of agents, athletes’ participation in professional drafts and whether to tie the NCAA’s revenue distribution formula to leagues’ performance in sports beyond men’s basketball. A new NCAA subcommittee on congressional engagement will take some of the responsibility for advancing the issues on which the NCAA cannot self-impose changes.

“We need a consistent national framework for name image and likeness activity,” Sankey said. “The reality is that the NCAA lacks the legal authority to address some of these elements at present. That’s part of the reason the transformation of the NCAA does not stop with this report. It shifts to a new phase.”

Perhaps the most consequential among the pieces of unfinished business would be changes to roster limits and/or scholarship caps, topics which could be considered again under the new sports management committees. Other topics related to broader decentralization and deregulation will carry over, too.

“This is a milestone, not a finish line,” Cromer said. “The work of transforming the NCAA must continue, and it will be a perpetual effort.”

Required reading

(Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)


Leave a Comment