ACC’s New Autonomy Proposals Seek Student-Athlete Benefits


The Atlantic Coast Conference has begun taking advantage of its new legislative prowess within the NCAA by submitting autonomy proposals which work on behalf of student-athletes.

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In August, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved a measure to allow the “Power Five” conferences, including the ACC, to proceed with a greater level of sovereignty over their own affairs. On Monday, the conference publicly announced its autonomy proposals for consideration by the NCAA.

The first is cost of attendance, which had been widely discussed over the summer, would allow for a school to optionally “provide an athletics scholarship to any student-athlete up to their cost of attendance at the institution” (ACC press release). Current scholarships cover the basics such as tuition, room, and board, but the ACC (and others) seek to cover all of a student-athlete’s reasonable expenses for attending the school. This proposal would apply to any student-athlete regardless of sport.

Next is loss-of-value insurance, which is essentially disability insurance for student-athletes. Jameis Winston notably purchased a similar policy for himself, which would protect him in case an unexpected peril were to prevent him from being drafted in the top ten.

Finally, the scholarship renewal item would prevent a school from pulling a scholarship for reasons related to injury or on-field performance.

All of these autonomy proposals figure to impact student-athletes in a significant way. From having their expenses covered more fully to a coach being unable to cut players from the scholarship rolls, players across every sport are going to enjoy greater perks for what they do, with a great commitment of resources flowing their way. It was fair and proper for the conference to propose that this apply to all student-athletes, not just those in a select few revenue sports.

While these reforms stand to benefit the student-athletes, a question to be asked is if the massive growth of college sports and the attention paid to the needs of athletes will drive more of a wedge between them and the rest of the student body. They already get benefits and attention that most students do not see, and they only stand to get more as college sports continue to boom.

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This could also drive a bigger wedge between the power conferences and the “have-nots.” A school like Boston College can afford to take the hit from the “cost of attendance” proposal annually, but smaller Division I schools would have a harder time. It remains to be seen if this extra money for players could help drive athletes away from the smaller conferences, but it is a reminder of the difference between a conference like the ACC and a “have-not.”

The whole reason the NCAA adopted this structure was to keep Division I together by giving those power conferences less of a reason to break away. Some might liken it to the United Kingdom giving the Scottish and Welsh their own legislatures, though the UK would survive either of those nations leaving; Division I sports would probably not survive the power conferences leaving. Someday, they still might leave, but the major conferences will now use this opportunity to set an agenda that will completely change college sports.

These autonomy proposals match those offered by other conference, such as the Big 12, and are likely to pass overwhelmingly. As soon as next year, student-athletes at Boston College and elsewhere in the power five conferences will have much more going for them.