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Power Five OKs big changes on medical care, holiday basketball

Division II votes to welcome schools in Mexico.

The NCAA’s five largest conferences approved sweeping changes in everything from medical care to basketball during the holidays Friday, dashing through the agenda with little opposition and virtually no debate.

And Saturday, the NCAA’s Division II voted by a wide margin to allow Mexican colleges to apply for membership, expanding its international reach beyond Canada.

Extended medical benefits for former athletes, a three-day break for basketball players over the holiday season, more money for student hosts, and allowing men’s hockey players to receive draft advice before enrolling in college without losing eligibility were all approved Friday. The Division I autonomy group passed all four measures — and 11 in all — in just 35 minutes at the NCAA’s annual convention.

“It’s a great day — all the proposals passed,” said Taylor Ricci, a former gymnast and undergraduate assistant coach at Oregon State who serves on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. “It’s really, really exciting to see the medical proposal pass. It put a smile on my face.”

If the last few days proved anything, it’s just how closely aligned the Power Five conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — are, with quick hearings and lopsided votes.

Medical coverage and mental health benefits for athletes who suffered injuries or sought help during their college careers was extended for at least two years after they leave campus. The proposal passed 78-1.

Each institution will be able to create its own policies for who qualifies for the new two-year requirement. Many of the 65 Power Five conference members already provide post-career medical coverage, including the Pac-12, which has a four-year mandate.

It’s an open question whether the moves by the wealthiest conferences lead to similar changes in other leagues. Schools with less money might find the insurance costs prohibitive unless the NCAA pitches in.

“Maybe that is the discussion or a proposal that comes forward,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said. “A lot of times there is some help from the NCAA. This year, there was one-time fund to cover medical and academic expenditures for student well-being.”

The measure requiring schools to give basketball players three consecutive days off near the end of the calendar year passed 58-21 with the addition of an amendment that permits one exemption every four years if a team competes in a qualifying tournament.

Even the proposal to raise the student host allowance from $40 per day to $75 passed 64-15 after two students asked voters to reject a smaller increase to $50. The ice hockey measure passed unanimously as part of a seven-part package, which included raising the monetary value of improper benefits requiring restitution from $100 to $200.

The legislation allowing Mexican schools into Division II takes effect immediately. Schools must meet all Division II standards, including facilities and staff, before being considered.

No schools have applied yet, and any that do would be required to complete a three-year provisional period before becoming a full member.

In 2008, Division II agreed to accept Canadian schools. Simon Fraser in Vancouver, British Columbia, became the first full-time member outside the U.S. in 2012-13 and remains the only international NCAA member.

“We’re very proud to be the first but being the only is lonely,” Simon Fraser President Andrew Petter said, speaking in support of a measure approved a few minutes later by a vote of 253-45.

Despite facing passport issues and other challenges, Petter said Simon Fraser has found creative ways to overcome those obstacles and believes schools in Mexico would find similar solutions.

Division II officials hope Mexico brings more than just diversity to the playing fields.

Only five schools in the West field football teams, and they would like to schedule more games closer to campus. Some already have scheduled Mexican opponents and found them to be competitive.

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