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N.C.A.A. Looks to Rewrite Its Constitution and Stave Off Critics


The N.C.A.A., with its authority curbed by the Supreme Court, its conferences jostling for influence and its future deeply uncertain, said Friday that it would look to rewrite its constitution.

The decision by the N.C.A.A.’s Board of Governors to call what it described as a “special constitutional convention” by Nov. 15 could prove a spark for a sweeping overhaul to the management of college sports. But the association has a long record of slogging toward changes, and it is far from clear that any redesign of the N.C.A.A. will satisfy its critics within the multibillion-dollar industry or, just as crucially, the courts and lawmakers that have been scrutinizing it.

The N.C.A.A.’s announcement came 15 days after its president, Mark Emmert, began to call publicly for a reorganization of the largest governing body for college sports in the United States, and just more than a month after a unanimous Supreme Court ruling made the association more vulnerable to antitrust litigation.

“I think it’s really the shifting legal environment, the economic environment, the political environment that creates this opportunity in a lot of ways to stop, erase the blackboard and draw a new chart again,” Emmert told reporters during a conference call on Friday. “That’s a really, really powerful opportunity.”

It may also be the N.C.A.A.’s best chance to keep a measure of power over an industry that has lately — but particularly after the Supreme Court’s ruling — been skeptical of the association and its strategy for college sports.

“I have tried very hard to understand and asked to be educated on the structures of the N.C.A.A., and I still can’t quite make out why it’s structured the way it is,” George Kliavkoff, the new commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, said in an interview this week. He noted the vast differences in college athletic programs nationwide and predicted that, someday, there would not be “a monolith over all of those different business models.”

A top-to-bottom evaluation of the N.C.A.A. constitution could be a step toward that. The constitution of the nonprofit group, which ordinarily draws more than $1 billion in revenue a year, runs dozens of pages and enshrines matters as mundane as annual dues ($900 for conferences) and as central as amateurism and sportsmanship.

A committee of 22, expected to include figures like university presidents, athletic directors and conference commissioners, will be named in the coming weeks to weigh ideas for how to change it. The roster of that panel, whenever it is made public, could indicate whether the association is headed toward cosmetic changes or a radical reimagining — perhaps by blowing up a system that includes three distinct divisions, or maybe by giving greater influences to leagues.

Emmert said he doubted that the committee would suggest abandoning the bedrock principles of the N.C.A.A., but he said “that doesn’t mean they won’t be modified in some way or another, and they could be significantly different.”

The association has been the target of heavy criticism for its pace of change over whether college athletes can make money off their fame. It is looking to hold final votes on any constitution proposals in January, when it is scheduled to hold a convention in Indianapolis. But the N.C.A.A. is already undergoing a shift, pivoting from steadfast defenses of its model and power toward a more openly conciliatory approach.

Robert M. Gates, the former defense secretary who is now a member of the N.C.A.A.’s board, depicted the debate ahead as perhaps determinative of the association’s future place in American sports.

“Until we can better align the mission of the association with its authority, the N.C.A.A. will not be able to play the role it should play in governing college sports,” Gates, a former president of Texas A&M, said in a statement. “We cannot go on as we are.”


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