You’ve likely heard of the NCAA. It’s the massive governing institution whose name you have probably seen attached to some of your favorite college championship sporting events. You’ve probably noticed its logo plastered on every court of the men and women’s championship basketball tournaments. Perhaps you’ve heard about it when there are regulation infractions in college sports. Maybe you’ve heard it talked about negatively as the conversation around student athlete rights continues to be had in the national sports media and the public square. But what is the NCAA exactly?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, is a governing body of University Presidents and decision makers that preside over athletic competition among its member schools. Nearly 20,000 schools operate in conjunction with the NCAA across three divisions of competition. These are Division I, Division II, and Division III.
Over 100 years ago, the precursor to the NCAA was created. It was called the Intercollegiate Athletic Association and was formed in 1906 in order to govern rules around college competition in football, though it quickly adopted regulations for several collegiate sports. In 1910 it took its current name, but it would not have significant influence in college athletics until the 1940’s when it had amassed member institutions across the United States. In 1972, the NCAA created the three divisions that still exist today.
Today, the NCAA’s decisions affect nearly half a million student athletes across the United States and several schools in Canada and Puerto Rico. Member schools work within committees through the NCAA to approve rules for competition that encompass recruiting, on field rules, scholarships, and championships. These committees are usually staffed by Chancellors and Presidents of member institutions who work together to approve legislation for their respective divisions.
Financially, the NCAA is maintained through fees from its members, but also championship events. Across its 24 sports within the three divisions, the organization hosts nearly 90 championships events each year. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is it’s largest cash earner, with an average year usually providing roughly $850 million between ticket sales and TV and marketing distribution deals.
The money earned by these events is used to cover future event costs and then further distributed between member schools to continue supporting collegiate athletics. It’s worth noting that one of the most popular college sports post season events is not actually coordinated by the NCAA. The College Football Playoff is a self coordinated event that runs in association with Division I football programs. Similarly, all post season bowl games are typically organized and operated by their respective sponsors, not the NCAA.
Though the organization has not seen major change in the past few decades, substantial shifts are on the horizon. In April 2020, after facing pressure from student-athletes, sports media, and the general public, the NCAA Board of Governors approved a proposal for member conferences to create regulations on student-athlete compensation through their name, image and likeness. These regulations would allow athletes to profit from third-party sources, such as merchandising, endorsements, or personal appearances.
Previously, student-athletes were governed by strict amateur athlete regulations that prevented them from receiving financial compensation of any kind while competing at a collegiate level. Over the years, athletes and critics have raised objections to these rules, and with major sporting events such as the CFP and NCAA Basketball Tournaments netting large payouts for colleges, universities, and the NCAA, the pressure has finally led to reexamination of these rules.
Navigating this development will be one of the NCAA’s biggest challenges to date. How they handle the next few years will no doubt impact the lives of countless athletes and the schools that they call home. Let’s hope that their decisions continue to create a more fair and equal environment for collegiate sports that benefits the schools, athletes, and fans involved.