Fourth Annual: New Year’s New NCAA Rules

2014 new yearsThe new year brings with it my fourth attempt to fix the NCAA Division I Manual. Like the last three years, the goal is not to identify major changes or philosophical shifts. These are all intended to be relatively minor changes that should have an outsized benefit.

After three previous lists and the work done by the NCAA over the last three years, the definition of a “tweak” is getting looser. But in the grand scheme of things, none of these changes gets to the heart of the current debates of the role of the NCAA and what the fundamental nature of its rules should be. Throat clearing over, here are seven more rule changes for 2014, one for each bylaw from personnel to playing and practice seasons.

Bylaw 11: Work with Coaches Associations on Recruiting Certification

The annual ritual of recruiting certification centers around the recruiting exam developed by the NCAA. But the NCAA rules on recruiting certification contemplate more than just taking the exam:

Such certification procedures shall be established and administered for its member institutions by the member conferences of the Association or, in the case of an independent institution, by the NCAA national office or the conference office that administers the National Letter of Intent for that institution. Such certification procedures shall include a requirement that the coaches shall have passed a standardized national test developed by the NCAA national office covering NCAA recruiting legislation, including Bylaw 13 and other bylaws [e.g., Bylaws 15.3 (institutional financial aid award) and 14.3 (freshman academic requirements)] that relate to the recruitment of prospective student-athletes as a condition for being permitted to engage in off-campus recruiting.

In addition or instead of conferences developing the certification program, coaches associations should have a role. Coaches associations could supplement the NCAA’s basic education and certification exam with sport-specific programs, including separate educational requirements or additional questions added to the NCAA’s test. This would expand recruiting certification to include more than just basic rules most longtime coaches have internalized without cluttering up the process with issues that do not apply to other sports.

Bylaw 12: Loosen Restrictions on Private Lessons

Many people do not know that NCAA rules allow student-athletes to make money teaching private lessons. It is one of the few ways the NCAA allows student-athletes to profit off their athletic ability without harming their eligibility. But private lessons have a number of restrictions, including:

  • The student-athlete may not use his or her name or likeness to promote the lessons;
  • Institutional/booster facilities may not be used;
  • The student-athlete may not run a camp or clinic (i.e. instruction must be comparable to one-on-one instruction; and
  • The student-athlete must charge the going-rate in the locale for those types of lessons.

Some of the restrictions make it difficult for student-athletes to take advantage of this opportunity rather than preventing violations of amateurism principles or giving institutions an unfair advantage. If an athlete cannot charge extra, they cannot profit off their reputation, name or likeness. Preventing athletes from using institutional facilities knocks out one obvious place for athletes to give lessons. The other restrictions like the going-rate and general employment rules reduce the possibility of loopholes if athletes were allowed to run camps or clinics.

Student-athletes should be allowed to run camps or clinics, allowed to use their name and likeness to promote lessons, and should be allowed to use institutional facilities under the same terms the institution offers to the general public. This would create a real opportunity for athletes to make money in their very limited free time while remaining rules would prevent most of the obvious scams.

Bylaw 13: Allow Contact with First-Year JC Nonqualifiers

Junior college transfer requirements have been ratcheted up steadily over the last few years. Higher GPAs, limits on physical education courses, and English, math, and science requirements have made navigating the junior college-to-Division I transition as complex as the high school initial eligibility process. But Division I hopefuls in junior college often have even worse support resources than high school students and have no central authority to say whether they are on track or not.

Athletes who failed to qualify out of high school have the highest and most complex requirements with the biggest consequences if they miss those requirements, including no athletic scholarship. But while college coaches can call or email nonqualifiers in their first year at a junior college, they may not have face-to-face contact with these students. That means no off-campus contact, no home visits, no official visits, and no unofficial visits.

This means reduced opportunities and incentives for Division I coaches to make sure their junior college recruits are on track to transfer successfully. Allowing face-to-face contact may accelerate the recruiting process for nonqualifiers at two-year colleges, but will also make it more likely that these prospects get the guidance they need to end up in Division I.

Bylaw 14: Exhibition Games Do Not Use Eligibility

One of the bedrock rules of NCAA eligibility is the minimum amount of competition rule. That means one play, one second, one at-bat, one point, one race, one throw, one whatever equals one season of eligibility used. The trouble with this ironclad rule is that it has been eroded over the years with a number of exceptions. Student-athletes in fall sports can play during the spring season and not use eligibility. First-year basketball players can play in exhibition games or closed scrimmages and still redshirt. Recently the NCAA allowed athletes to redshirt after playing in an alumni contest, fundraising activity, or celebrity sports activity.

The combination of sport-specific rules and treating different type of exhibition contests different leads to cases where student-athletes and their coaches unwittingly burn eligibility with few options to get it back.

All of these exceptions should be replaced with one simpler rule: exhibition contests do not cause an athlete to use a season of eligibility. That would include:

  • Contests in the nonchampionship segment, either in the fall or spring;
  • Any preseason exhibition games, regardless of whether they are exempt; and
  • Alumni games, fundraising activities, or celebrity sports activities.

If a game is not part of the regular season used to select the NCAA championship field or part of a postseason event, it should not result in the use of eligibility. That still puts athletes in sports like golf and tennis at a disadvantage while giving a break to track athletes. But it does at least clear up many of the questions surrounding whether athletes can play in a meaningless game and still redshirt.

Bylaw 15: Eliminate the Proportionality Requirement for Summer Aid

Being a Division I student-athlete is increasingly a year-round occupation. Basketball and football now have required activities during the summer. Most revenue sport programs and growing numbers of non-revenue programs strongly encourage their athletes to stay on campus for voluntary workouts and to get ahead or catch up academically. An athlete who is ineligible after the spring often has to use the summer to get eligible in order to remain on the team.

All of this costs money. The institution charges tuition for the summer term and athletes have to find money to pay for those credits. For full scholarship athletes, the institution has the discretion to pay for summer school. But NCAA rules require summer aid to be proportional to the athlete’s scholarship during the previous academic year. So a student-athlete on a 25% scholarship during the year may only get a 25% scholarship for the summer. Walk-ons may not get any athletic scholarship aid during the summer.

For many student-athletes, summer school is an expense related more to athletics than their education. Many of these athletes would not be enrolling in summer school unless they were part of a team which expected or required them to be on campus. For that reason, the NCAA should not treat summer aid as connected to regular athletically related financial aid. Instead, it should be treated more like an incidental expense (albeit a big one that many institutions will not be able to afford for every athlete) which an institution should be able to provide at its discretion.

Bylaw 16: Unlimited Comp Admits for Student-Athletes

Student-athletes can receive a maximum of four complimentary admissions for each regular season game, six comp admits for each postseason contest. They cannot be sold, they must be provided through a pass list (no hard tickets), and institutions or conferences sometimes limit athletes further. But do a player pass list for one game and it becomes clear the biggest pain is the four comp admit maximum. It leads to rounds of trading and begging especially for athletes who attend a local college or who are headed home for a road game.

If student-athletes are supposed to be playing for the love of the game first and foremost, they should be able to share that with all their friends and families. There will be some abuses. There will need to be additional monitoring to make sure that comp admits are not being sold or used by the coaching staff (although current best practices already include this type of monitoring). But setting limits is well within the capabilities of individual institutions. It even gives an advantage to the have-nots. Who will have a better chance to deliver on a promise of unlimited comp admits for an athlete: the traditional power with a packed stadium or the team that struggles to fill seats?

Bylaw 17: Eliminate the Foreign Team Exception

The NCAA limits either the number of dates of competition or contests that each team and/or student-athlete can participate in, depending on the sport. But there are numerous exceptions to those limits. Postseason contests are obviously exempt. Road games against teams in Hawaii and Alaska help those institutions fill a home schedule. Alumni games are typically more exhibition that competitive event and no longer cause a student-athlete to use a season of eligibility.

One exception though seems to serve no other purpose than allowing teams to play an extra game. In many sports, institutions can exempt one contest each year against a foreign team in the United States. That often means a foreign professional or national team which is touring in the US, rarely a foreign college. These games are scheduled either as part of the nonchampionship or exhibition segment or before the regular season as a tune up.

Playing a foreign team in the United States has limited cultural benefits compared to a foreign tour. The competition is rarely between two college teams. And the games are much more serious than alumni contests or fundraising activities. As part of the push to make it clear to athletes what the demands on their time and bodies will be, this exception should be eliminated.


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