ARLINGTON, Tex. — For the last few months, football players at Northwestern have been pushing to be recognized as a union, which they hope will eventually force universities to further limit practice time and to provide them with benefits like better medical coverage.
Their efforts have met considerable resistance from the N.C.A.A., which has suggested that an organized labor force would explode the model of collegiate athletics. But some N.C.A.A. leaders now say they are inching closer to changes that would give the athletes at least some of the things they are seeking — which the officials hope will stave off the union effort.
At a news conference Sunday, the day before the men’s basketball championship game here, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, and a group of the organization’s leaders discussed the overhaul plan, which is being hashed out. The basic idea, they said, is to give autonomy to the five so-called power conferences in college athletics — the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12 and Southeastern Conferences — allowing them to provide additional benefits to their athletes.
“There are things that need to get fixed,” said Emmert, whose organization has been defending itself against a series of high-profile lawsuits claiming that it did not adequately address head injuries and that men’s basketball and football players should receive a share of the revenue generated by their sports.