The big-time football schools would be able to make their own rules concerning recruiting and academic requirements under a proposal that is expected to be approved at the NCAA convention in January. If passed, it would end eight years of political infighting among the different constituencies of the NCAA's Division I.
In the past there have been major differences in philosophy between the big-time football schools, which are a minority in the 277-member Division I group, and the other schools, which have much smaller athletic budgets. Those differences still remain, but they now have a plan both sides say they can live with.
Under the proposal, the smaller Division I schools that have defeated autonomy plans offered by the bigger schools in the past would be guaranteed Division I status. At the same time, the bigger schools would not be able to give more scholarships or have larger coaching staffs in basketball.
"It's unique," said Bob Frailey, athletic director at American University and a member of the NCAA executive committee. "It might be something that makes everybody happy."
The latest autonomy plan for Division I-A was devised by conference commissioners and NCAA officials representing all three segments of the 277-member division. The division has 105 Division I-A schools that include the football powerhouses; 87 Division I-AA schools, who do not meet attendance criteria for I-A football status, and the 85 Division I-AAA schools, who do not play Division I football.
The proposal has received the backing of both the NCAA Council and President's Commission, according to Jim Delany, commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and one of the drafters of the proposal. He said yesterday that, although support is not unanimous, he expects the proposal to pass at the NCAA meeting in Nashville.
"This has been a very divisive issue for eight years," he said. "We wanted to sit down and identify what needed to be protected from our standpoint, and see if it would lead to something that would protect our minimal interests."
The proposal would give Division I-A schools autonomy in all areas except championship events, requirements for Division I membership and limits on basketball scholarships and coaching staffs.
Two years ago, in a heated floor debate, Division I delegates to the convention defeated a proposal backed by the NCAA Council that would have used average basketball attendance as a criteria for Division I membership for schools that did not play Division I football.
Under that proposal, such Washington-area universities as Georgetown, George Washington, American and George Mason were among 67 schools whose Division I status would have been jeopardized.
Last year, a proposal that would have given the I-A schools autonomy in all areas except championship events was defeated, 175-130. Many Division I schools at that time were concerned that an increase in coaching staffs and maximum scholarships in basketball would put the smaller schools, with smaller budgets, at a competitive disadvantage in basketball.
A direct result of the political infighting in Division I was the formation of the College Football Association. Subsequently, the CFA and two of its 63 members -- Oklahoma and Georgia -- challenged NCAA control of televising college football games.
Recruiting and academics are two areas in which CFA leadership says other schools in Division I thwarted efforts to pass tougher rules.