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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

Updated Aug 24, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on higher education

On Tuesday, August 24, Axios justice and race reporter Russ Contreras, executive editor Sara Kehaulani Goo, and business reporter Erica Pandey discussed the barriers students of color still face to gain access to college.

The one-on-one talks featured Howard University president Wayne A.I. Frederick, M.D., M.B.A., author and assistant professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education Anthony Abraham Jack, Ph.D, and Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of The Common Application.

Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick discussed how Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) serve an important role in dismantling many of the barriers impacting first-generation Black college students.

  • On remedying the enrollment gap impacting underrepresented students: “It's critical that we do it early, is the first thing I would say. We have a middle school on our campus that's focused on math and science. And my experience has been, if you stop one of those young people in middle school and ask them where they go to school, [they’ll say] ‘I go to Howard University.’ So, it's extremely important to have them get an early exposure. That feeling of being in real college – demystifying it – is important.”
  • On increasing the number of minority majority institutions, a key component in expanding opportunity for underrepresented groups: “Today, we [Howard University] still send more African Americans to medical school than anyone else… That means that we are putting an undue burden on one institution and at the same time, we don't fund that institution as if it's carrying a burden of national importance. So, we have to look at that very closely and fundamentally change what we're trying to do in order to make sure that there's equity. And then in terms of spreading that world, we have to make sure that the other institutions that are supporting this type of work are funded.”

Professor Anthony Abraham Jack, author of The Privileged Poor, expressed his views on how education differs between low-income students and “the top 10 percent”:

  • On the how access to well-funded, top schools opens up opportunities that many lower-income students are not privy to: “You get access to what sociologists call cultural capital, those taken for granted ways of being that are valuable in a particular context. You get an understanding of how to interact with adult figures in mainstream institutions… You get a crash course on what college is to be. And so, the students who are part of programs like A Better Chance, the White Foundation and also students like myself who get scholarships, we get a crash course on what the next four years are going to be about.”
  • On how college campuses can act as a safety net for low-income students: “Lower income students hit that structural wall when [they] still need money to be a full citizen at a university. Small gaps like spring break means something wholly different when you don't have money. When universities shut down their campuses for spring break, assuming that all students depart for fun in the sun, low-income students, both the poor and disadvantaged, face food insecurity… Universities may have opened and created greater access. But is it for lower income students? So often they have forgotten to keep the doors open for those who can't afford to leave.”

CEO Jenny Rickard unpacked how The Common Application is helping eliminate inequitable questions, structures, and more that hinder the college application process for students of color.

  • On the barriers underrepresented students face when applying to college: “Although we've evolved as an application from a technology perspective, from the photocopier to the cloud, from a process perspective, the admissions process has not evolved in that time. And some of the questions that we're asking today that for an audience in 1975 was predominantly white, predominantly male and predominantly upper middle income, we're now much more diverse… We found that students could encounter questions that would then stop them from submitting an application at all.”
  • On how checking one box on a college application makes the difference between continuing on to university and not: “The school discipline question is very critical. We know that having a disciplinary record means they're less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to go to college and more likely to enter the criminal justice system. We looked at our own data and saw that students who just checked the box, yes, that they'd had a disciplinary issue in high school were less likely to complete the application. So, we made that decision this year to eliminate that question from the comment portion of the application.”

DOJ sues American Airlines, JetBlue to block "unprecedented" alliance

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Tuesday sued American Airlines and JetBlue to block an "unprecedented series of agreements" that will consolidate the two airlines' operations in Boston and New York City.

Why it matters: The civil antitrust complaint alleges that the planned Northeast Alliance (NEA) "will cause hundreds of millions of dollars in harm to air passengers across the country through higher fares and reduced choice," the DOJ said in a release.

FBI: Body identified as Gabby Petito, death ruled a homicide

A memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito near City Hall in North Port, Fla. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

A body found in Teton County, Wyoming, on Sunday was confirmed to be the remains of missing 22-year-old blogger Gabby Petito, the FBI announced Tuesday.

Driving the news: The death was ruled a homicide by the Teton County coroner's office, the FBI said. The cause of death has not been determined.

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