The times, they are a-changin'.
That classic Bob Dylan song had nothing to do with the NCAA or college football, but pull the lyrics up on the Internet and you can relate it to nearly every governance issue currently going on in college athletics.
From the Ed O'Bannon case to the Northwestern unionization to Jeffrey Kessler's quest to chip away at NCAA power, it's clear that the landscape of college football is finally shifting in a direction that will give more power to the players.
The NCAA itself is getting in the mix.
According to a release, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors endorsed the restructuring process giving more power to the "Power 5" conferences—the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. If approved, the five conferences would have autonomy and be more responsive to the needs of students.
“The model we sent to the membership today is not a final product,” said Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch, chair of the board and the steering committee. “Some aspects of the model remain under discussion, and we hope the membership will provide us further input.”
This isn't a reactionary move by the NCAA to what's going on around it. This is something that has been in the works for a while.
So what does it mean?
It means the NCAA is moving in the same direction as everybody else. It would allow the "Power 5" to have permissive legislation for players' education and athletic needs, which is a fancy way to say that the schools and/or conferences would be able to implement certain measures at their own discretion.
More simply, it paves the way for schools and conferences to provide full cost of attendance stipends (anywhere from $2,000-$6,000 per year) to bridge the gap between what a scholarship covers and what it costs to actually attend college.
They'll also explore expanded health insurance coverage and coverage that would protect future earnings, family expenses and tickets and increased academic support, as SI.com's Stewart Mandel notes.
Issues the Power 5 could vote on themselves if approved include cost of attendance, insurance, academic support and travel for families.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) April 24, 2014
Essentially, autonomy would define what schools are "big-money" schools and which ones aren't. In the current Division I structure, UAB carries the same weight as Alabama, and Texas State has as loud of a voice as Texas.
That doesn't make any financial sense, and the NCAA is fixing it.
The move allows football schools to have more flexibility to adjust with the times, which is a good thing. Instead of digging in its heels and holding the banner of the student-athlete, the NCAA is making efforts to adapt to what has become a big business and recognize that the "athlete" part of "student-athlete" deserves more attention than it has in the past.
Is it a Band-Aid?
Well, maybe. Legislation that comes from this autonomy will almost certainly be reactionary at first and could stay that way forever. But if it gives athletes a place at the table, prevents an uprising against the sport and allows more healthy discussions based on the evolving financial landscape, that's good for college football.
Ideally, the sport doesn't need active players joining lawsuits against the NCAA like the O'Bannon case. That's an extreme measure that diverts attention away from football.
This autonomy should prevent some of those extreme measures from taking place and get the focus back on where it should be.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.
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