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NCAA changes move schools slowly into 21st century


For the nearly 150 years since college students have been playing organized sports, the deck has been decidedly stacked against the collegians.

Well, the times appear to be changin’, what with a series of votes last week during the NCAA’s annual convention.

A panel of the largest schools in the NCAA, college sports’ governing body, passed four changes to the way athletics will be run, going forward.

The panel, which represents schools from the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern and Pac-12 conferences, voted to grant extended medical benefits to former athletes, the biggest of those changes.

The vote, which passed with only one dissent from 79 schools, allows colleges and universities to grant medical coverage and mental health benefits to athletes who were injured or requested assistance for at least two years after they leave campus.

Most of the so-called Power Five conferences already extend post-career coverage. The Pac-12, made up of schools on and around the Pacific coast, already has a four-year post collegiate requirement.

It seems only right that schools, which make billions off the backs of these student-athletes, a cynical little phrase invented by the NCAA, should provide some assistance to them after they’ve chewed them up and spit them out.

The panel also approved a change that requires schools to give men’s and women’s basketball players three consecutive days off near the end of each calendar year, so that these athletes can, in theory, enjoy a portion of the holidays with their families.

Prospective collegiate hockey players may now receive advice about where they might be drafted by the pros before they enroll in college and not lose their eligibility. And students who host prospective athletes may now receive up to $75 per day, an increase from the current $40.

No doubt there are many who will argue that a full-ride, four-year college scholarship is a valuable commodity, one that they and their children would kill to have.

And they would be right if that’s what they were receiving as student-athletes. The truth is that most college athletic scholarships are for one year, and are renewable at the pleasure of the schools.

Those scholarships do not cover things like entertainment and clothing, which no college kid I know would be without. Most student-athletes would gladly work for the money to buy those things, except they are barred by the NCAA from doing so.

The one area that still eludes college athletes is the freedom of movement. Student-athletes are still largely bound to the schools they sign with through onerous letters of intent.

But even that may be changing. There are reports that the NCAA may permit students to transfer without sitting out a year, provided they meet academic requirements.

When you add these changes to moves in recent years that permit schools to give students stipends above the cost of a scholarship as well as money to make emergency visits home, you get the feeling that college athletic programs are edging ever so closely to the reality of the 21st century.

These are all just first steps, mind you, but the journey of 150 years has to start somewhere.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.