By granting the big five "power conferences" more autonomy to make and spend more money, the NCAA board of directors last week dropped pretense and yielded to reality.

Those conferences - the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC - will have the ability to set certain rules outside the regulatory purview of the NCAA. One likely change, for example, is that those conferences will authorize stipends to cover athletes' expenses, in addition to their current scholarship packages. Or, they might offer an extra year for academic work after the athletes' athletic eligibility expires.

The latter issue was at the heart of Northwestern University football players' ground-breaking effort to unionize - not for wages, but for the ability to complete their degrees.

As a practical matter, the change will apply most directly to football, the most expensive and most lucrative sport. Football and basketball fund most of the other "non-revenue" sports in the major conferences. The NCAA will retain fundamental control of basketball through its ownership of the "March Madness" championship tournament, from which it derives most of its operating revenue.

The NCAA also will retain its enforcement authority relative to academic eligibility, although the new arrangement does not address the haphazard and inequitable way that the NCAA has handled those matters.

Like most other things involving big-time college sports, this is about money. But at least it seems to indicate that more of it will go toward athletes' welfare.