UP Case Highlights Permission-to-Contact Issues

Steve Brandon of the Portland Tribune, writing about a waiver filed by the University of Portland on behalf of women’s basketball student-athlete Kaylie Van Loo:

The uncertainty at the time was because UP officials had decided to file a waiver that would have allowed Van Loo to begin playing last weekend, after the first semester. UP proposed that the NCAA take into consideration the circumstances that prevented her from being able to enroll last spring and consider that time part of the required year in residence that basketball transfers must serve.

The circumstances raised by Portland included Idaho’s handling of Van Loo’s permission to contact request and her misunderstanding about the restrictions imposed by Idaho’s initial denial of her request. Based on the information in the article, Portland’s request looks like it deserves relief although some specific timing issues might argue the other way. But two other biggest issues about permission to contact are revealed by Van Loo’s transfer.

First, Proposal 2009–29 clearly has the potential to backfire. That proposal gave institutions time limits to respond to a student-athlete’s request for permission to contact. Institutions have seven business days to respond to the initial request and 15 days to issue a decision once a student-athlete requests an appeal. According to the article, Idaho simply did not respond to Van Loo’s appeal, which ultimately meant permission to contact was granted. But institutions can delay permission to contact requests for up to 4 1/2 weeks by doing nothing more than denying the request at the latest possible date. Contrast that with the language that Proposal 2009–29 removed from Bylaw 13.1.1.3.1, which covers permission-to-contact denials:

…[O]r if the institution delays a response to the request or indicates that permission will be granted at a later date…

Under the old rule, even though “delay” was not defined, delaying the response to a request could result in a violation of Bylaw 13.1.1.3 and thus would mean permission to contact was automatically granted. Now the time frame is set, but a month delay is allowed, which as Van Loo’s case illustrates, can easily frustrate a student-athlete’s ability to transfer midyear.

The second issue raised is the lack of oversight by the NCAA over permission to contact. The NCAA sets some basic requirements:

  • Must respond to a written request in seven business days;
  • Must render an appeal decision within 15 business days;
  • Appeal must be heard by group outside the athletic department;
  • Student-athlete must have an opportunity to “actively participate” in appeal hearing.

But even within those requirements, a lot of questions have been left unanswered:

  • What constitutes a “written request”? Can the institution limit what it accepts as a valid written request?
  • How long must student-athletes be given to request an appeal?
  • Who chooses the members of the committee?
  • Is the student-athlete entitled to representation or legal counsel in the hearing and appeal process?

That is to say nothing of whether the institution can add other hoops for student-athletes to jump through, what are the role of other athletic administrators, and any standards about when permission can be denied or must be approved.

Some sort of release mechanism is necessary in Division I. Given the stories about how often tampering occurs under the current rules, it seems likely that continuous recruiting would be a major issue with no release process at all. The Division I Leadership Council is working on an alternative to permission to contact, but it remains to be seen how that will turn out.

Until some major change occurs, permission to contact with its connection to financial aid is what we have. That means the stakes involved are potentially huge. The NCAA needs to take more control of this process or at least box in what institutions can do with it tighter. Otherwise cases like Van Loo’s will look tame compared to what some athletes are put through when trying to transfer.

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