Pac-12 letter outlines bold reform agenda for athletics

Pac-12 presidents have taken a unified approach in urging 'bold action' to reform college athletics.

Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Two months after a federal labor official ruled that football players at Northwestern University could create the nation’s first union of college athletes — and as other states’ unions such as North Carolina’s have welcomed scholarship student-athletes at public universities to join as state employees — the Pac-12 conference appears to be taking proactive steps to brace for the future of intercollegiate athletics.

In a letter sent out May 14 and signed by all the presidents of the Pac-12 universities, the Pac-12 outlines 10 steps for reform, "addressing both the need to increase funding for student-athlete driven initiatives and the restoration of academic primacy to the mission of intercollegiate athletics."

The suggested reforms don’t mention a stipend for athletes, but they include reduced practice times and in some cases shorter seasons, on-going medical insurace for injured athletes, a loosening of transfer rules and opening the door for contact between athletes and agents.

In what figures to be one of the more controversial suggestions, the letter calls for possibly eliminating freshman eligibility in men’s basketball unless the NBA takes steps to raise the age limit for players.

The letter, which was sent to university presidents at the other four power conferences, suggests that "bold rather than incremental action must be taken now" and that the schools must act with a "sense of urgency."

Arizona State President Michael Crow told the AP that his counterparts in the Pac-12 are not "happy with where things are going. We’re not happy with the nature of the debate out there. And we felt like our voice is not well understood."

"We’ve been talking about the need for reform for a long time, and so in a sense our thinking has coalesced," Crow said. "There’s just so much thinking going on relative to the NCAA. So we thought it was time to say, `Well, this is what we think the NCAA should be, and this is how we think it should work.’"

The 10 steps for reform are quoted here:

1. Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.

2. Provide reasonable on-going medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition or practice. Continue efforts to reduce the incidence of disabling injury.

3. Guarantee scholarships for enough time to compete a bachelor’s degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.

4. Decrease the time demands placed on the student-athlete in season, and correspondingly enlarge the time available for studeies and full engagement in campus life, by doing the following:

a. Prevent the abuse of organized "voluntary" practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week.

b. More realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season, including travel time.

5. Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.

6. Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for post-season play.

7. Address the "one and done" phenomenon in men’s basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.

8. Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and NCAA levels.

9. Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage in their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.

10. Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.

The letter concludes that "this agenda could proved to be expensive and controversial, but the risks of inaction or moving too slowly are far greater. The time for tinkering with the rules and making small adjustments is over."