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Coaches Associations Propose More Teams and Scholarships

Tomorrow presidents of Division I institutions will hear a series of proposals from different stakeholder groups in Division I. What athletic directors, compliance professionals, and faculty might want is fairly easy to guess. Brad Wolverton of the Chronicle of Higher Education has the scoop on what one of the more interesting presentations will contain: the ideas from coaches associations.

A group of 12 Division I coaches’ associations in such sports as soccer, volleyball, and swimming is urging the NCAA to increase the number of sports and the amount of financial aid a university would have to offer if it sought to join any new “super division” comprising the most-powerful institutions.

This is not the first time a 24-sport minimum for a new division or subdivision has been floated. North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham tossed out the idea over the summer. It is immediately clear where opposition to such a change would come from, primarily the SEC, Big 12, and Pac–12. It is also easy to figure out which sports would benefit from a higher minimum.

As far as the financial aid minimum, the group is proposing that institutions which survive the split provide at least 60% of the NCAA’s maximum athletic financial aid in each and every sport. In Division I, there is no minimum per sport, only three different aggregate minimums a school must reach:

  • 50% of the maximum allowable grants in 14 sports, including seven for women;
  • 50 full grants-in-aid for sports other than football and men’s and women’s basketball; or
  • $1,394,580 spent on financial aid in 2013–14 in sports other than football and men’s and women’s basketball.

There are also some additional requirements and a provision for low-resource institutions. However you slice it, 60% of the maximum in all sports is a big increase and will sap a lot of the flexibility in meeting the minimum. The big question which only the NCAA and the members know is how many institutions in line for a spot in a new division or subdivision would have to add scholarships.

The other issue with these two major planks of the coaches’ platform is figuring out who will be subject to these higher minimums. The governance conversation has moved away from actual splits toward the Power 5 conferences being able to vote amongst themselves for things like cost-of-attendance scholarship and more benefits for athletes. To be a member of this club, you would have to meet the proposed minimums. But what would stop the Group of 5 conferences or the rest of the Division I from adopting the same proposals as the Power 5, and focusing the increased aid and benefits on specific sports without incurring the additional costs of more teams with many additional scholarships?

The proposed change is simply too radical as a reform to Division I. If or when a split comes and sponsoring 24 sports and providing more scholarships is the difference between competing on the field with the big boys, then this might have more traction. The one caveat is if Division I governance reform includes Division I revenue distribution reform. Put enough financial rewards (not to mention avoiding the loss of some revenue) behind complying with these minimums, and more conferences and institutions will consider it.

The other aspect of the coaches association proposal involves a greater say for coaches in Division I governance:

In addition to those proposals, the coaches’ associations want to be more integrated into the NCAA governance structure through formalized “communication partnerships” with member institutions, conferences, and NCAA staff members. Coaches also want the ability to push through noncontroversial rule changes or other sport-specific matters without going through the traditional NCAA legislative cycle.

A good example of a rule that would be better off in the hands of the coaches association is the recruiting calendar. The NCAA could set some minimal requirements, like dead periods around NLI signing and the holidays and minimum amounts of contact and evaluation periods. The coaches association could then hash out its own detailed calendar within those broad restrictions, perhaps according to a set schedule like every two years. Start dates for recruiting contact, frequency of contact, even the start of preseason practice could fit this template.

Integrating coaches into the legislative process and offloading some rules to coaches associations has a much better chance of surviving until January than increased sport and financial aid minimums. The former is the type of thing that might have happened even in the absence of a bigger reform effort. The latter will likely wait until the next round of major NCAA changes.

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