With college athletics at precipice of historic change, SEC brass meets to mull future of industry

As college athletics inches closer to historic change, university presidents and chancellors of the SEC held an in-person meeting Wednesday at league headquarters in Birmingham — a consequential and rare gathering of decision-makers atop one of the industry’s most powerful leagues.

Sources with knowledge of the meeting spoke to Yahoo Sports under condition of anonymity. An SEC spokesman declined to comment.

In a meeting presumably led by commissioner Greg Sankey, conference leaders examined proposed terms of what could be a historic agreement to both settle multiple antitrust cases as well as usher into the sport a new athlete compensation model featuring a revenue sharing concept. While a formal vote is not expected from the group until a later date, presidents and chancellors reviewed the proposal in an effort to work toward a decision.

Settlement terms, mostly agreed upon, are being disseminated through the power conferences as commissioners work to gain authorization from their presidential boards through a majority vote. Discussion among executives continues to trend toward a joint decision to support the settlement, a move that could happen by the end of next week. Officials are working to both meet a deadline from plaintiff attorneys as well as have rectified the situation before a hearing in a separate antitrust case, Fontenot v. NCAA, on March 23.

The latest and most intricate details of the proposed, 10-year settlement were contained in a memo obtained by Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. The document outlines the three main concepts within a settlement: back damages owed to former athletes ($2.776 billion); revenue-sharing for current and future athletes (upwards of $22 million annually per school); and an overhaul of a variety of NCAA elements, including scholarship and roster limits, governance structure and enforcement arm.

The SEC presidential meeting is one of many expected to transpire over the coming two weeks.

Big 12 presidents held a virtual call earlier this week. Big Ten presidents are scheduled to meet next week at their spring meetings at a site outside of Los Angeles. ACC presidents also meet next week in Charlotte.

NCAA president Charlie Baker is positioning for votes as well with his Board of Governors and Board of Directors. Notre Dame, the only power league independent, will need to gain support from its own school governing board.

From ACC conference meetings on Wednesday, commissioner Jim Phillips described the situation as a “joint decision” among all parties — a feeling shared by those within the industry. They must all do it, or none at all.

Phillips described the impending settlement as a “seismic shift” and expressed uncertainty over the future. “I don’t think anybody really knows how this is going to ultimately end,” he said.

Not everyone supports a settlement. Despite the NCAA’s lowly recent record in court, some college presidents prefer a legal battle. The risks are steep. The NCAA and power leagues estimate that a loss in court could cost them as much as $20 billion in cumulative back damages in all three antitrust cases (House, Hubbard and Carter). Such a startling figure would result in them filing for bankruptcy, according to the memo obtained by Yahoo Sports.

Within conference administrative meetings, vigorous debate has raged over unresolved issues related to a settlement. Questions loom, most notably around how a deal protects college sports from future legal challenges, how Title IX is applied in the new revenue-sharing model and how booster-led NIL collectives will be policed by a new enforcement arm.

There are some, even, who believe that the proposed new compensation model stops short of a collective bargaining and/or employment model — a more long-term or permanent solution, they contend.

There are a small number of detractors in several leagues, including several presidents in the SEC, according to those with knowledge of the room. However, only a simple majority of support is believed to be necessary to adopt the settlement agreement.

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