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NCAA Staff Asks for Temporary Authority in Waivers and Reinstatement

The NCAA Leadership Council meeting on January 16 at the NCAA Convention in San Diego will be headlined by the anticipated adoption of new transfer waiver guidelines. But the Council will take up a request from the NCAA staff that could have even further reaching implications. To summarize the request, the calls for the NCAA to hire a “Vice President of Common Sense” may be answered with the closest thing the NCAA would actually consider.

The staff will ask the Leadership Council to discuss whether the staff should be granted temporary, expanded authority and discretion in numerous areas. The authority would include waivers, initial eligibility, amateurism certification, and student-athlete reinstatement. And it would touch on a broad range of topic areas including military service, clock extensions, delayed enrollment, and extra benefits.

The reason for the request has to do with the history of the NCAA after 2011’s Presidential Retreat. One of the grand visions the retreat was significant rules deregulation that was to be matched by a clean-up of the administrative decision-making process. Both the rules and administrative reform efforts are on hold as larger governance issues are sorted out. The staff anticipates some combination of bylaw and administrative changes, but they have to wait until the new governance structure is in place and other higher priority items (e.g. cost-of-attendance scholarships) are taken care of. So instead of waiting, the staff is asking for temporary authority to get started making decisions that are likely the end goal of the reform effort.

All of this is explained in Supplement No. 4 to the Leadership Council agenda for their January 2014 meeting. Also there are the initial list of topics that the staff over which the staff would have expanded authority. They include:

  • Academic initial-eligibility waivers involving personal hardship and military service;
  • Allowing prospects certified only for financial aid to earn practice after the first term;
  • Delayed enrollment cases involving military service, religious missions, or “minimal or loosely organized competition.”
  • Waivers involving the health and safety of a student-athlete and/or personal hardship involving the student-athlete or their family;
  • Waivers involving the use of a student-athlete’s likeness for non-athletic reasons;
  • Reinstatement cases where an extra benefit was provided out of concern for a student-athlete’s health, safety, or well-being; and
  • Clock-extension waivers that do not meet the legislated criteria but circumstances warrant additional flexibility.

The list indicates three cases that would not fall under this expanded authority. Initial eligibility cases from 2013–14 and earlier will not be revisited. Waivers for transfers from four-year colleges will stick to the existing (or soon to be changed) guidelines. And requests to give a student-athlete back a season of competition will have to follow existing guidelines “absent extraordinary circumstances.” But beyond that, there is a catch-all in the types of waivers, which include those “in which application of the legislation would likely have an inappropriate negative impact on a student-athlete’s well-being.”

This authority would have avoided many of the cases this summer where the NCAA was criticized for an early negative decision for the athlete only to see the decision overturned on appeal or upon reconsideration. One key item missing from the request though is how long this temporary authority would last. The supplement only hints at feedback from the membership to establish the appropriate scope of this authority.

Like the transfer waiver discussion, the Leadership Council will take this request up at its January 2014 meeting at the NCAA Convention in San Diego. Unlike the transfer waiver guidelines, the staff authority request is not marked as “Action Anticipated”. That combined with the questions and feedback contemplated by the request means sending this to the Division I Board of Directors is unlikely in January. But the request specifically mentions initial eligibility decisions for the 2014–15 academic year. That still means an aggressive timeline to have this authority sorted out and approved before this summer.

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