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Breaking Down the NCAA’s First Steps Toward Deregulation

On January 19, 2013, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors will meet at the NCAA Convention. It should be a significant day in NCAA history. The board will likely adopt 26 proposals that represent the most sweeping deregulation of NCAA rules ever attempted in a single stroke. The proposals touch on staffing, off-campus recruiting, phone calls, text messaging, minor academic rules, and a good portion of the extra benefit legislation.

Below is a summary and commentary on 24 of the 26 proposals the board will vote on. The two proposals not included address the philosophy of Division I, but do not affect the day-to-day work of athletic departments until embodied in more specific legislation.

Each proposal includes the number, title, and a short description from this NCAA release. Also included are my predictions on how likely opposition to a proposal will be. Since the Board of Directors is expected to adopt all these proposals, opposition would be seen through the override process, where institutions request individually for a proposal to be reconsidered.

RWG 11–2: Elimination of Recruiting Coordination Functions

Would eliminate the rules defining recruiting coordination functions that must be performed only by a head or assistant coach.

This would allow any institutional staff member to call recruits, send them emails and letters, and help evaluate and select prospects. This proposal was covered in a previous post looking at how it might lead to separate player-personnel departments in football and basketball offices. Off-campus recruiting would still need to be done by coaches.

Odds of a fight: Medium. This will have a big impact in recruiting and highlight revenue disparities.

RWG 11–3-B: In-Person Scouting Prohibited

Would prohibit the live scouting of future opponents except in limited circumstances.

Currently, live scouting is prohibited in some sports, allowed in some sports, and allowed in other sports, so long as coaches scout on their own dime. This would prohibit live scouting for all sports, meaning all scouting would be done via film. Another version of this proposal would have allowed live scouting for all sports.

Odds of a fight: Low. The revenue sports have prohibited scouting for a long time, and obtaining game film is getting easier and cheaper.

RWG 11–4: Elimination on Number of Off-Campus Recruiters

Would remove limits on the number of coaches who can recruit off-campus at any one time, the so-called “baton rule.”

This proposal would allow all coaches in a sport to recruit off-campus at one time. This would have the biggest impact during football’s spring evaluation period and basketball’s July evaluation period. It would not add recruiting days or lift the restriction on the head football coach recruiting in the spring.

Odds of a fight: Low. This helps schools with fewer resources cover more ground in recruiting, although it takes more coaches away from athletes during the academic year.

RWG 12–1: Definition of Actual and Necessary Expenses

Would establish a uniform definition of actual and necessary expenses.

The definition would include things like meals, lodging, equipment, coaching medical expenses, entry fees, coaching, and transportation.

Odds of a fight: Low. Everyone wants more clarity in this area.

RWG 12–2: Calculation of Actual and Necessary Expenses

Would allow the calculation of actual and necessary expenses to be based on the total over a calendar year instead of an event-by-event basis. The working group recommended the calculation change for both prospective and enrolled student-athletes.

Currently athletes suffer penalties if prize money or financial support exceeds expenses for each individual event. This would radically simplify the amateurism certification process, especially for elite individual athletes like tennis players.

Odds of a fight: Low. Too big of a benefit and still sticks close enough to amateurism principles.

RWG 12–3: Limited Benefit

Would allow a student-athlete to receive $300 more than actual and necessary expenses, provided the expenses come from an otherwise permissible source.

$300 over expenses would be seen as a minimal or de minimis benefit not worth putting a student-athlete through reinstatement or hitting them with suspensions and repayment. No expenses, including $300 extra, could come from boosters, agents, or professional teams.

Odds of a fight: Medium. This looks too much like a loophole for athletes to cash in, however small the profit may be.

RWG 12–4: Competition-Related Expenses From Outside Sponsor

Would permit individuals to receive actual and necessary competition-related expenses from outside sponsors, so long as the person is not an agent, booster, or representative of a professional sports organization.

This rule would expand a recent change that allows for fundraising by athletes to cover expenses for competition. This expands the rule to cover both team and individual sports and current student-athletes as well as prospects.

Odds of a fight: Low. There are enough safeguards and enough schools that have dealt with this issue.

RWG 12–5: Payment Based on Performance

Would allow student-athletes in sports other than tennis to receive up to actual and necessary competition-related expenses based on performance from an amateur team or event sponsor.

This expands the acceptance of prize money to include enrolled student-athletes as well as prospects, and team sports as well as individual sports. Tennis is exempted because tennis has an annual $10,000 limit for prospects who have not started college.

Odds of a fight: Medium. This is a major expansion of the prize money legislation that might make some people uneasy.

RWG 12–6: Training Expenses from Governmental Entities

Would allow student-athletes and prospects to receive actual and necessary expenses for training, coaching, health insurance, etc. from a governmental entity.

This eliminates a rule that hurt international athletes more than domestic prospects. Government programs supporting athletes are exceedingly rare in the United States but common abroad.

Odds of a fight: Low. There will some objection, but not enough to gain momentum.

RWG 13–1: After Signing National Letter of Intent

Would allow schools to treat prospects like student-athletes for purposes of applying recruiting regulations once a National Letter of Intent or signed offer of admission or financial aid is received.

Details about this proposal are scarce. A “Points to Consider” document does not include any more explanation. But saying that athletes are student-athletes once they sign an NLI opens up a can of worms about what that status means.

Odds of a fight: High. The extra benefit language in the proposal is too unclear. I would expect a significant number of override requests.

RWG 13–2: Initial Date for Communication and In-Person Contact

Would allow off-campus contact with recruits beginning the first day of junior year in high school and communication with recruits on or after July 1 after the completion of the recruit’s sophomore year in high school.

This removes all the different dates and rules for the start of phone calls, emails, and off-campus contact for different sports and establishes a uniform start date of July 1 in between a prospect’s sophomore and junior year.

Odds of a fight: High. This requires coaches to start aggressively recruiting juniors, something coaches have long resisted. Also pushes recruiting process to start sooner. Expect many override requests.

RWG 13–3: Deregulation of Modes and Numerical Limitations of Communication

Would eliminate restrictions on methods and modes of communication

This proposal does two things. It removes any numerical limit on phone calls, so no more one or two per week or month. It also allows all forms of communication with an athlete, so long as they are private. This means text messaging, private social media messaging, and instant messaging would all be permitted and unlimited after the start date above.

Odds of a fight: High. Combined with the removal of the recruiting coordination legislation above, this raises serious concerns about big advantages for richer schools. Not to mention the disrupting to existing recruiting practices.

RWG 13–4: Elimination of Documents to Recruits

Would eliminate the requirement that institutions provide materials such as the banned-drug list and Academic Progress Rate data to recruits.

This proposal would remove from the NCAA Manual the requirement that prospects be sent documents like grad rates and the banned substance list. The Eligibility Center currently does this for the schools, and would continue to do so as EC policy rather than an NCAA rule.

Odds of a fight: Zero. Schools don’t even do this anymore.

RWG 13–5-A: Elimination of Printed Materials Legislation

Would eliminate restrictions on sending printed recruiting materials to recruits.

Schools would be able to send any printed materials to recruits, not to mention any audio/visual materials. No more restrictions on the size of notecards or number of pages in a media guide. An alternative proposal that was dropped would have prohibited sending any printed recruiting materials.

Odds of a fight: High. As little as a flood of mail does in changing a recruit’s mind, this will be another place that the have-nots dig in for a fight.

RWG 13–7: No Publicity Restrictions After Commitment

Would eliminate restrictions on publicity once a prospective student-athlete has signed a National Letter of Intent or written offer of financial aid or admission.

After a prospect signs an NLI, there are still some restrictions on publicity. Currently schools can only do one press conference per team per signing period, cannot have recruits present at signing press conferences or celebrations, and cannot use prospects likeness in promotions. Under this proposal, those restrictions would be lifted.

Odds of a fight: Low. There will be some opposition, especially given the promotions piece, but not enough to derail the proposal.

RWG 13–8: Camp and Clinic Employment Deregulation

Would deregulate camps and clinics employment rules related to both recruits and current student-athletes. Senior football prospects would be allowed to participate in camps and clinics.

Unsigned prospects would be still be prohibited from being employed in camps. Football players, currently not allowed to work at their own school’s camp, would be permitted now. Much of the other restrictions would be eliminated as they are duplicated in the general employment rules.

Odds of a fight: Medium. Schools with bigger, more lucrative camps will want to employ incoming prospects and football players. Schools with smaller camps may object, but may want incoming football prospects to attend camp as well.

RWG 14–1: Academic Policies and Inconsequential Legislation

Would eliminate academic regulations that are covered elsewhere and directly supported by institutional academic policy.

This would make a grab-bag of changes to Bylaw 14, including:

  • Eliminating the Early Admission Waiver;
  • Establish a single 45-day temporary certification for all athletes;
  • Eliminate the requirement that students declare a major; and
  • Eliminate restrictions on participating in high school all-star contests.

Odds of a fight: Low. Removing the major requirement might raise eyebrows, but it is covered by the 40/60/80 percentage of degree requirement.

RWG 16–1: Awards After Full-Time Enrollment

Would allow institutions, conferences or the NCAA national office to provide an award to student-athletes any time after initial full-time enrollment.

The way the awards legislation is written, there are different rules for awards given during the academic year and the summer. This proposal would use one set of rules for all awards received for participating in NCAA athletics.

Odds of a fight: None. I would not be surprised if many people did not realize this rule existed until now.

RWG 16–2: Expenses to Receive Noninstitutional Awards

Would allow conferences, an institution, the US Olympic Committee, a national governing body or the awarding agency to provide actual and necessary expenses for a student-athlete to receive a non-institutional award or recognition for athletics or academic accomplishments. Expenses could also be provided for parents/legal guardians, a spouse or other relatives as well.

This is a mouthful, but it replaces a laundry list of specific types of awards with one general rule and allows the school to chip in to send an athlete and his or her family to an awards ceremony.

Odds of a fight: Low. If it had included institutional awards, then it would be a different story.

RWG 16–3: Academic and Other Support Services

Would allow institutions, conferences or the NCAA to pay for other academic support, career counseling or personal development services that support the success of the student-athlete.

Like 16–2, this replaces a laundry list of rules with one general policy. Schools will be able to be more flexible with job placement programs, academic tools, and use of office equipment by student-athletes.

Odds of a fight: Medium. Many schools will fear that flexibility turns into creativity. Likely means more iPads for student-athletes as well.

RWG 16–4: Medical and Related Expenses

Would allow institutions, conferences or the NCAA to pay for medical and related expenses for a student-athlete.

Same theme: removing a long list and replacing it with a general rule. But that list included “Expenses for medical treatment” and “Medical expenses” so it is no change.

Odds of a fight: Low. No real change, but if it looks enough like one, some schools might object.

RWG 16–5: Student-Athlete’s Family Members

Would, except for Bylaw, change all Bylaw 16 references to a student-athlete’s spouse, parents, family members or children to “family member,” establish a specific definition of “family member,” and permit specified benefits to such individuals.

A family member would be a spouse, parent or guardian, child, sibling, grandparent, domestic parter, or “any individual whose close association with the student-athlete is the practical equivalent of a family relationship.” It appears no additional benefits were added to be provided to family members. What is Bylaw, you may ask? Travel to a bowl game or one round of the NCAA tournament in a sport, which would still be restricted to an athlete’s spouse and children.

Odds of a fight: Low. Had postseason travel been included, might be a different story.

RWG 16–6: Entertainment in Conjunction with Practice or Competition

Would allow institutions to provide reasonable entertainment in conjunction with competition or practice.

I forgot this was in the Rules Working Group package and advocated it in my New Year, New Rules post. This one does exactly what the summary says, eliminating the requirements about it being during a road trip, vacation, or movie nights during home games. In practical terms, this means more trips to paintball and ropes courses.

Odds of a fight: High. Allow the mind to wander a bit about what schools might do and you can see why many will object.

RWG 16–7: Expenses for Practice and Competition

Would allow schools to provide actual and necessary expenses to student-athletes representing the institution in practice and competition (including expenses for activities/travel that are incidental to practice or competition) as well as in noncompetitive events like goodwill tours and media appearances.

It might shock people that there are limits on this sort of thing. Mostly this is another case of eliminating a long list of rules. But there is one major notable change. Eliminating these rules eliminates the NCAA restrictions on when teams can leave for and must return home from competition.

Odds of a fight: Low. Eliminating the departure/return restrictions will draw some opposition, but not enough. Expect conference rules to expand to fill in this gap.

RWG 16–8: National Team Tryouts, Practice, and Competition

Would allow student-athletes to receive actual and necessary expenses and “reasonable benefits” associated with a national team practice and competition. The proposal would also allow institutions to pay for any number of national team tryouts and championship events.

This expands many exceptions to the extra benefit limitations that apply only to the Olympics to any national team competition. One of the biggest allows student-athletes to receive “broken-time payments”, which is compensation from a governing body for missed employment while training or competing with the national team.

Odds of a fight: Medium. Smaller schools will be wary of allowing schools to fund unlimited national team tryouts. Could lead to Olympic farm teams at specific schools.

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