New NCAA Constitution Ratified, Shifts Power to Universities
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- The new constitution impacts more than 1,000 schools and 500,000 college athletes.
- It prohibits pay-for-play, while continuing existing rules for name, image, and likeness.
- The Board of Governors shrinks from 21 to nine and includes a recently graduated athlete.
NCAA member schools last week voted to ratify a new constitution that decentralizes the organizing body in college sports, shifting power to schools and conferences.
"[The constitution provides] a chance to look at what is good, what's beloved, what's rewarding, and what's supportive of student-athletes," said NCAA President Mark Emmert. "With the passage of the proposed constitution, the divisions will all have a chance — all of you — to redraw the rules and keep what's working well and get rid of the extraneous that's causing so many challenges for so many of us."
Emmert made his comments at the NCAA's annual convention prior to the Jan. 20 vote approving the new constitution. The new constitution was developed by the NCAA's Constitution Committee.
The committee was created in the summer of 2021 following several events that shook the organization, including criticism of the 2021 women's basketball tournament and a loss in the U.S. Supreme Court in which Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested the organization was violating antitrust rules. In response to the ruling, the NCAA adopted a new policy that allows student-athletes to cash in on their name, image, and likeness.
"With the passage of the proposed constitution, the divisions will all have a chance ... to redraw the rules."
— Mark Emmert, NCAA President
The new constitution, which takes effect on Aug. 1, gives student-athletes a voice in the decision-making process, a change that impacts more than 1,000 schools and 500,000 college athletes. Students will have voting representation on the Division I Board of Directors, the Division II Presidents Council, the Division III Presidents Council, and the NCAA Board of Governors.
The NCAA's Board of Governors will also be cut from 21 members to nine. There will be six members from the three divisions — four from Division I and one each from Divisions II and III. There also will be two independent members and one graduated student-athlete. Another student-athlete will serve as a non-voting member on the board.
The new constitution prohibits pay-for-play, while continuing existing rules for name, image, and likeness. The constitution addresses the importance of mental health and gender equity.
But the new constitution drops language from the previous constitution that provided nondiscrimination protections for athletes, drawing criticism from some advocacy organizations that sought to add back the language prior to the convention vote.
"The NCAA should put non-discrimination language with enumerated categories in its new constitution as it did with its previous version with the clear disagregation of gender identity," the Human Rights Campaign and 16 other groups wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to the NCAA.
"We have to make changes that prove that higher education is still willing and able to govern college sports," Emmert said.
The long-term impact of the new constitution remains to be determined. That's because the new constitution calls upon each of the three NCAA divisions to develop their own governance models by Aug. 1, 2022. Prior to the approval of the new constitution, all three divisions took steps to ensure they were ready to make governance changes once the new constitution was in place.
The governance discussions could prove to be tough and wide-ranging, particularly at the Division I level. It's a tumultuous time in Division I, with some conferences shifting members and some schools making handsome profits from their sports, while others lag behind. Control of the division, its members, and its finances could prove to be a point of contention.
"We have to define the future that we want, using this new constitution as the framework to build upon. We have to make clear why students come first. We have to make changes that prove that higher education is still willing and able to govern college sports," Emmert said.