Aug 4, 2021 - Sports

The NCAA's summer of change

Illustration showing the NCAA logo with tools on it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The college sports landscape has changed more this summer than at any other point in history, as the NCAA grapples with new rules and shifting power dynamics.

The state of play: When NCAA competition resumes this fall, everyone involved — from student-athletes and coaches, to universities and fans — will be entering a new world.

  • NIL rules: College athletes have only been able to earn money off their fame for a month, and this sea change has already trickled down to high school. Top-ranked QB Quinn Ewers is skipping his senior year to enroll at Ohio State and cash in on NIL, while hoops star Mikey Williams, 17, is now free to sign endorsements.
  • Transfer landscape: New rules introduced in April allow all athletes to transfer once and be immediately eligible, creating college sports' version of free agency and transforming the world of recruiting.
  • Realignment: Texas and Oklahoma will join the SEC by 2025, creating a 16-team super-conference and ushering in "Realignment 2.0." The domino effect: The Big 12 and Pac-12 commissioners met Tuesday amid reports of a potential merger. More buzz: Kansas to the Big Ten? West Virginia to the ACC? AAC to raid Big 12?
  • New pathways: Investors are flocking to new leagues that will compete directly with the NCAA. An example: Overtime Elite, which is paying high school hoops stars six-figure salaries to skip college.

The big picture: With so many seismic shifts happening at once, the role of the NCAA is bound to change dramatically in the coming years.

  • The NCAA's iron grip on college sports has been slipping for decades, as TV-rich Power 5 conferences grow more powerful and question why they need the organization in the first place.
  • NCAA president Mark Emmert sees the writing on the wall, saying recently that it's time to decentralize college sports and shift power to schools and away from the NCAA. This comes after the organization took a very hands-off approach to NIL reform.

What's next: The NCAA Board of Governors will convene in November for a "special constitutional convention." The goal: dramatically reform the six-article constitution that lays out the organization's purpose.

"This is a really propitious moment to sit back and look at a lot of the core assumptions and say, 'You know, if we were going to build college sports again, and in 2020 instead of 1920, what would that look like?'"
— NCAA president Mark Emmert

In related news ... A law firm hired to investigate gender equity concerns at NCAA championships released its report on Tuesday.

  • The NCAA prioritized men's basketball "over everything else in ways that create, normalize and perpetuate gender inequities," it says.
  • One recommended change: Holding the men's and women's Final Fours at the same site.
Go deeper