For the past two years, on December 31st I have posted a set of new NCAA rules for the New Year. The other two editions can be found on the NCAA’s website.
Each year I’ve selected one rule to change from each of the NCAA’s main operating bylaws. These are not big, major rule changes. These are designed to be small tweaks that have an outsized impact either on helping student-athletes or reducing the burden of monitoring. Without further ado, here is the set of new rules for the new year of 2013:
Bylaw 11: Give All Sports Graduate Assistant Coaches
There are teams in all sports that have graduate assistants. They may even be called graduate assistant coaches. But outside of football and rowing, there is no formal graduate assistant position. In sports like basketball, baseball and softball, soccer, or any other NCAA sport, graduate assistants are either countable coaches being paid through a scholarship or noncoaching staff members.
Graduate assistant coaches are permitted to instruct student-athletes, but not engage in off-campus recruiting although they may call prospects. Compensation is limited to a full grant-in-aid for graduate students plus some miscellaneous benefits similar to those available to student-athletes. There are also limits to when and how long someone may serve as a graduate assistant coach.
Expanding the graduate assistant position or using it to replace the volunteer coach would expand opportunities available to student-athletes finishing their eligibility to enter the coaching ranks. Not to mention that the full grant-in-aid provides some living expenses while a volunteer coach often must find other full-time employment to pay the bills.
Bylaw 12: Let All Coaches Arrange Professional Training
College coaches can do a lot to help athletes start a professional career. They can talk to general managers, suggest agents, even tell an athlete when it might be time to leave (assuming the motives are pure).
But in football and basketball, one thing coaches may not do is arrange for or direct student-athletes to participate in practice with a pro team. In soccer for instance, this is a common way athletes get drafted. Their coaches set up training or trial stints with professional teams over the offseason, who may decide to sign the player after the training period.
NBA and NFL rules currently prohibit this sort of contact, but there are plenty of professional training opportunities outside of the major leagues. Minor leagues or European teams in basketball may be willing to give practice opportunities to athletes that in effect work as tryouts. And letting coaches talk to teams could reduce the influence of agents, runners, and other “third parties”.
Bylaw 13: Allow Athletic Departments to Employ Prospects
This sounds ridiculous. Of course, athletic departments would do whatever they could in order to make sure they are getting money into the pockets of local prospects that might commit. But under the current rule, a professor at the school who might also be a booster could do the same thing, just so long as it is not at the direction of the athletic department. And athletic departments are already allowed to provide jobs for student-athletes.
Athletic departments would still be required to pay prospects the going rate in the locale for similar work. This would be part-time hourly work, not something prospects would be getting rich off of. The biggest problem would be when prospects are forced to commit to get a part-time job or when they are fired because they committed somewhere else.
Bylaw 14: Do Not Count Club Teams for Eligibility Purposes
This issue came to the forefront this year after a couple of athletes, most notably Ari Dimas, found out their eligibility was exhausted due to club team participation. Club team participation is treated the same as varsity team participation, so it counts as using a season of eligibility each year you play.
But the rule makes no sense. Outside competition on an amateur team including those better than club teams (like PDL soccer teams) does not count. And the five-year rule means the maximum “extra” competition someone could get out of a club team is one season. College coaches are also not going to farm out large portions of the team to club coaches as a junior varsity team. If they did and it became an issue, there are plenty of safeguards that could be put in place besides the use of eligibility.
Bylaw 15: Allow Payment of Optional Fees and Books
A full grant-in-aid is often defined in shorthand as tuition, fees, room, board, and books. But more accurately, a full grant-in-aid covers only required fees and required course books. Optional Fees and recommended course materials cannot be covered by a scholarship.
Changes to the rules about health insurance have solved one of the biggest optional fees issues. But there are still some fees for international students that schools cannot pay, not to mention things that are not required but that student-athletes would benefit from like parking passes. Optional course materials have also ate up too much time and money with not just secondary infractions but major violations as well.
Bylaw 16: Allow Team Entertainment at Any Time
Team entertainment is allowed only in three circumstances: on a road trip, during a vacation period when the team is in-season, and the night before a home game (limited to a movie though). At other times, the school is prohibited from financing an entertainment activity.
Most of the time, the entertainment activities coaches want to do with their team are team-building activities like ropes courses, paintball, camping, or go-karting. Coaches are even willing to build these activities into their practice schedules to stay below limits. Allowing reasonable entertainment with say 100 miles of campus provided it is counted against practice limits would allow for these activities while not letting them get out of hand.
Bylaw 17: Remove the Concept of “Units”
Quick: When can a women’s volleyball team start practice? If you have no idea, do not worry. Most volleyball coaches and compliance officers cannot tell you off the top of their head. That’s because fall sports that have preseason practice before schools start use a complicated and antiquated process for determining the first day of practice.
That process is built around “practice units”. Some days count as two units, some days count as one, Sundays do not count at all, sports have different numbers of units, volleyball counts differently before and after September 1. Outside of football, these units have no relationship to when or how much teams can practice.
Almost anything would be better than the current process of calculating units. A uniform start date for all teams would be the best and simplest. More likely would be practice starting a given number of days before a team’s first game. Or perhaps the women’s basketball model of so many days of practice starting so many days before the first game could be used to build in some rest.