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Triathlon, Health and Safety Highlight 2013-14 Division I Legislative Agenda

August 15th is always a little like Christmas if you follow NCAA legislation. That day is the deadline for the NCAA to publish to its members the proposals under consideration at the upcoming NCAA convention, this year in San Diego. In the past, that meant up to 100 Division I proposals. Last year it meant seeing the first fruits of the Rules Working Group. So far, this year is light in terms of number, but has some proposals with big impact.

The reason for the short agenda is a combination of factors restricting the NCAA legislative process. The Board has committed, once again, to not consider normal proposals outside of the Presidential Retreat agenda. That should mean Phase 2 of the Rules Working Group. But those proposals are not in the system yet, and may not come at all given the governance review that will headline the NCAA Convention. So these nine proposals may be all we get.

A big health and safety package accounts for most of the legislation being considered. Four proposals involve reporting, certifications, and designations.

  • 2013–15: Would require institutions to report any fatalities, near fatalities, or catastrophic injuries suffered by student-athletes to the NCAA on an annual basis.
  • 2013–16: Would required institutions to appoint a licensed physician as team physician for each or all of its teams.
  • 2013–17: Would require all full-time coaches and any head coach (including part-time or volunteer head coaches) to maintain certifications in CPR, first aid, and AED use.
  • 2013–18: Would require all strength and conditioning personnel to be certified through a national recognized certification program.

Many institutions already have appointed a team physician for all their teams. Many strength and conditioning coaches have some sort of certification or formal training. And as the NCAA points out in Proposal 2013–15, the reporting of catastrophic injuries would be relatively rare. 2013–17 is likely to be the fight. Some schools already require at least one coach for each team to be certified in CPR, first aid, and AED use, normally for insurance/risk management reasons. But expanding that to all full-time coaches and including revenue sport head coaches is bound to raise some complaints.

Another relatively minor proposed change involves the football preseason practice period. Currently, institutions are required to give student-athletes three hours off between practice sessions, that is on a day where the team is using two of its 29 on-field practices. 2013–19 would require the institution to give football players three hours off between any session, including walk-throughs. This is designed to accommodate research which shows acclimatization extends beyond just the first five days.

The final health and safety proposal would make a significant change to the NCAA’s drug testing program. 2013–20 would reduce the suspension for a positive test for a “street drug” from losing one season of competition in all sports and being ineligible for 365 days to a suspension from 50% of a season. Just like the street drug class right now, that penalty would be the same for subsequent positive tests. The penalty would not change for the rest of the drug classes, which are all classified as performance enhancing.

The other big headliner is 2013–21, which adds triathlon to the list of emerging sports for women. Proposals to add a sport have to cover a lot of ground, and triathlon is no different. Most of it is routine:

  • Length of season: 144 days, like other individual sports
  • Maximum number of competitions: 6
  • Minimum number of competitions: 4
  • Number of scholarships: 3.5 equivalencies in 2014–15, rising to 6.5 by 2017–18
  • Number of coaches: 2

The two interesting parts involve fitting triathlon into the NCAA’s amateurism structure and volunteer coaches.

Because triathlon involves three disciplines, two of which are other NCAA sports, it will be considered the same sport as track and field and swimming and diving for amateurism purposes. So someone who has professionalized themselves in track and field would not be allowed to compete in NCAA triathlon. Likewise, a professional triathlete would not be allowed to compete in NCAA track and field or swimming and diving. Because most professionalization in these sports involves endorsements, which causes athletes to lose amateur status in all sports, this should not be much of an issue.

Triathlon’s multi-discipline nature also generated a unique solution to coaching issues. To be properly coached, triathlon likely needs specialists on staff in each of the three disciplines. But to promote adoption by institutions, the NCAA does not want to make it look like universities need to hire large staffs to be competitive. So in addition to the two full-time countable coaches, triathlon programs would be allowed not one but three volunteer coaches. Each volunteer coach would be restricted to one of the disciplines. For example, the cycling coach would not be permitted to work with athletes on the swimming portion.

The final two proposals are more technical. 2013–21 changes how institutions count dual meets in sand volleyball toward the minimum number of contests for sport sponsorship. And 2013–22 changes playing and practice season and sport sponsorship requirements for women’s rugby to allow schools to field both 15-a-side and 7-a-side teams all under one women’s rugby program.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!