The Power Five conferences approved 11 measures in 35 minutes this past week at the annual NCAA convention in Indianapolis. Four of these measures are significant wins for student-athletes. They include mandatory time off for basketball players around Christmas time, extended health benefits for former student-athletes, more money for student hosts, and allowing hockey players to contact agents while retaining eligibility. Often tone-deaf regarding moves that would benefit its student-athletes, these changes, in combination with potential transfer alterations, show a slow movement towards greater athlete empowerment.
With that said, expecting these measures to trickle-down to other leagues and divisions might be wishful thinking. Extending medical coverage for former student-athletes can be a very costly proposition; one that perhaps is less of an issue for Power Five schools but could prove too expensive for smaller institutions. On a smaller scale but still fiscally-related, the per-diems for student hosts nearly doubled from $40 to $75. This won’t break the bank for college athletic departments but still is on-trend in terms of working with undergraduates regarding their concerns and desires while increasing budgetary spending.
With these moves, the Power Five further establishes itself as the foremost destination for student-athletes. Furthermore, the Power Five has shown it is willing to make moves that other institutions with smaller budgets can’t comfortably follow. Could player payment exclusive to Power Five conferences be on the table?
Such a move would potentially decimate non-Power Five recruiting, especially when combined with transfer changes that would allow for immediate eligibility. Adding exclusivity of payment to the already formidable allure of Power Five media exposure, facilities, and proximity to the pros would make nearly any mid-major student-athlete change his colors, resulting in rampant tampering and dirty recruiting.
As many in AD circles know, the payment discussion is not far-fetched. To wit, Power Five conferences have approved distributing stipends often in excess of $3,500 for full-scholarship athletes. Furthermore, South Carolina state Senator Marlon Kimpson has proposed a bill mandating a larger, mandatory payment for student-athletes at the University of South Carolina and Clemson University. If South Carolina enacted such a policy (which would be tricky considering current NCAA regulations but is not unforeseeable in the future), it could lead to a domino effect throughout the Power Five schools but would be a tough financial squeeze for smaller programs.
The Power Five continues to distinguish itself from its peers through policymaking that benefits student-athletes and is only possible thanks to its substantial financial superiority. Already a destination for recruits, adding player payment, which is more feasible at a Power Five school than anywhere else, would cause a sea change in the balance of college athletics and elevate P5 conferences to an unreachable level.