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Autonomy Request Includes Some Expansive, Foundational Bylaws

large__515588510Earlier this week, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported on a document which outlined which rules the power conferences want set aside for autonomous decision making. The request starts with well-worn territory: cost-of-attendance scholarships, lifetime education grants, and providing more food to athletes. It moves onto things like reducing time demands on athletes, limiting staff sizes and providing more academic support to at-risk students.

Along with each request, the document includes the bylaws that the request pertains to. In many cases, those bylaws are logical and uncontroversial given the request. In some cases though, the bylaw being cited is only tangentially related to the request, especially when the request itself is vague. And in other more worrisome cases, specific requests are paired with bylaw citations that cover much more ground that what is being asked for. These same requests touch on some of the most foundational rules in Division I, like the limit of five years to play four seasons.

What follows is a review of each request and the bylaws they cite. When governance reform is completed, autonomous decision-making will most likely take the form of a list of bylaws that the power conferences can change without the consent of the rest of Division I. So the goal here is to ask for each request whether the bylaw cited makes the idea put forward. In some instances, the answer is yes, but in others, much more is being asked for than necessary to bring about the vision put forth.

Current Issues

“Define the full grant-in-aid as meeting a student-athlete’s cost of attendance (Bylaws 15.1 and 15.2.4)”
This does exactly what it says on the tin. Bylaw 15.1 covers the maximum limit on financial aid to an individual student-athlete, as well as some details like handling Pell Grants or reducing aid when an athlete’s total package exceeds cost of attendance. Bylaw 15.2.4 specifically talks about funding the cap between the full grant-in-aid and the cost of attendance. This request is only noteworthy because it signals the idea of a standard stipend is well and truly dead.

“Provide a lifetime opportunity to fund the undergraduate education of current and former student-athletes (Bylaws 15.01.5 and 15.01.5.2)”
Bylaw 15.01.5 outlines which athletes are eligible for financial aid. Bylaw 15.01.5.2 is more interesting because it allows what the power conferences are requesting:

Institutional financial aid may be awarded to a former student-athlete for any term during which he or she is enrolled (full time or part time).

That has been the case since the adoption of Proposal 2011–97 (the multiyear scholarship proposal). The better bylaws to cite would have been Bylaws 15.02.7 and Bylaw 15.3.3.1, both of which cover the period of a financial aid award. Changing them would allow institutions to offer financial aid until graduation, no matter how long it takes, to recruits upfront, rather than limiting those awards to the five-year period of eligibility.

“Enhance benefits provided to student-athletes for the purpose of supporting their needs based on available resources rather than competitive equity (Bylaw 20.9.1.3)”
Bylaw 20.9.1.3 is the Commitment to Fair Competition. Commitments are nonbinding, guiding principles that should be considered when crafting NCAA legislation. This specific commitment is the foundation upon which the autonomy is built. What the power conferences are asking for is the ability to redefine what fair competition means in contrast to competitive equity. What this would accomplish for the power conferences is unclear.

“Meet the health, safety and nutritional needs for student-athletes (modified to include nutrition) (Bylaws 15.2.2 and 16.5.2)”
Bylaw 15.2.2 covers room and board as part of the an athlete’s financial aid package. Bylaw 16.5.2 outlines the type of housing and food benefits a school can provide to athletes as benefits related to practice or competition. The most obvious goal is to provide unlimited food to athletes. But also contained in these bylaws are rules about how room and board stipends are calculated and whether institutions can provide housing to athletes in the summer. Not contained in the cited bylaws are the rules which prohibit athlete-only dorms though, those are in Bylaw 16.5.1.1).

“Create ‘athletic dead periods’ for student-athletes to access opportunities outside of intercollegiate athletics (Bylaws 17.02.13, 17.02.14, and sports specific schedules in Bylaw 17)”
Bylaw 17.02.14 makes absolute sense; it defines voluntary athletically related activity. Bylaw 17.02.13 makes no sense though. That bylaw is the definition of a varsity intercollegiate sport as well as the lists of team and individual sports. This requests also includes license to muck around with the individual sport rules in the playing and practice season bylaw (Bylaws 17.2 though 17.26) so maybe the power conferences want to add or remove sports. More likely though is that Bylaw 17.02.13 is a typo and what was meant was Bylaw 17.02.15, which defines student-athletes discretionary time. That is a rule for football which would be the template for athletic dead periods in all sports.

“Provide comprehensive support for academically at-risk student-athletes (Bylaw 16.3)”
Since the adoption of Proposal RWG–16–3 in January 2013, institutions have had few restrictions on the type of academic support they could provide for athletes. But an updated Q&A document includes two things that institutions cannot provide that might offer a hint as to what the power conferences want include as “academic support”:

  • Institutions may not provide items that would be covered by a scholarship as academic support, specifically required course books to walk-ons.
  • Institutions may not provide athletes with free transportation or parking as an academic expense.

So the goal may be to allow anything to be provided by the institution, so long as it can be justified as an academic expense. That might include books for walk-ons, driving athletes to class, or providing them with free parking passes. It could mean paying for an athlete’s cell phone and service so academic advisors can stay in touch. In fact, it can mean just about anything if you are creative enough.

“Redefine rules governing agents and advisors to assist student-athletes with career planning (Bylaw 12.3)”
This is the first example in the list where the bylaw being cited is much more expansive than the request. Bylaw 12.3 is the entire agent bylaw. It includes not just the agent/advisor distinction but also the rules on signing with an agent, athletic scholarship agents, professional sports counsels and most importantly benefits from agents.

Too much cannot be read into this though since Bylaw 12.3 is poorly drafted. The benefits from agents rules is Bylaw 12.3.1.2, which is buried under Bylaw 12.3.1, the general rule on use of agents. It is impossible to cite the bylaws you would need to change the agent rules without roping in the benefits rule unless you specifically excluded Bylaw 12.3.1.2. In a “broad outline”, that level of detail is too much to ask.

“Personnel limits (Bylaws 11.7.1, 11.7.2, 11.7.4)”
These are all the necessary bylaws to change limits on personnel like coaches and noncoaching staff (directors of operations, video coordinators, etc.). Bylaw 11.7.1 covers the different personnel categories and how coaches are assigned to them. Bylaw 11.7.2 sets out the limits and exceptions for FBS football while Bylaw 11.7.4 includes the limits for all other sports. The better question is what do the power conferences intend to do with autonomy in this area? The best guess based on the thrust of the governance reform and past legislative fights is to have more coaches, but put a cap on the overall number of staff members that can work with a program.

Future Plans

“Financial aid rules related to an institution’s ability to reduce, cancel, or non-renew athletics aid (Bylaw 15.3.4 and 15.3.5)”
The two cited bylaws relate exactly to the request. Bylaw 15.3.4 covers cancellation or reduction of an athletic scholarship during the period of award, while Bylaw 15.3.5 covers renewals in between periods. The bigger question is what the power conferences want to do with these rules. This request may be related to state laws and a cornerstone of the union movement that athletes who have their athletic scholarships cancelled should receive equivalent scholarships. Changes could be made to these rules to prevent those scholarships from counting against team financial aid limits, allowing coaches to cut players, keep them on aid, but also replace the scholarships.

“Awards and benefit rules, which would include rules related to a student-athlete’s ability to receive awards (and expenses associated with receiving an award) and/or benefits not contemplated in the Vision document (e.g., ticket benefits, campus parking, incidental expenses at postseason events, benefits to a student-athlete’s family and friends) (Bylaws 16.1, 16.2, 16.6, 16.7, 16.8, 16.9, 16.10, 16.11 and 16.12)”
This is a laundry list of benefit and award bylaws which cover the different topics listed as examples. But the request itself is clear that the power conferences are not sure which parts of Bylaw 16 they may need to change. Included in the bylaw cites is Bylaw 16.11, which is the basic extra benefits bylaw. That opens the door to allowing almost any extra benefit from any source other than an agent or professional team.

“Provide transportation expenses for family members to attend events (e.g. official visits, championship events) (Bylaws 13.5, 13.6, 16.6)”
This is fairly straight forward, citing Bylaw 16.6. (expenses for athlete friends and family members) again, along with Bylaw 13.5 (recruiting transportation) and Bylaw 13.6 (official visits). But it points to the entire official visit bylaw, including the number of visits an athlete can take, the number of visits an institution can provide in some sports, and the various limits on a visit like the mode of transportation, 48-hour limit, and entertainment restrictions. Official visit deregulation was already a potential topic for the Rules Working Group, so it would not be surprising if the power conferences go beyond parents’ travel on their own.

“Deregulate pre-enrollment expenses provided by someone other than a booster (Bylaw 12.1.2.1)”
Bylaw 12.1.2.1 is the NCAA’s definition of pay for the purposes of determining an individual’s amateur status. It does include a number of exceptions for providing pre-enrollment expenses to prospects, including Bylaw 12.1.2.1.3.1 (educational expenses) and Bylaw 12.1.2.1.4.3 (competition/practice expenses). Since providing expenses from anyone other than an agent or booster is already deregulated, a better cite might have been Bylaw 12.02.2, the definition of actual and necessary expenses. That bylaw could be expanded to include recruiting expenses.

A charitable reading of this request is that the power conferences need access to all of Bylaw 12.1.2.1 in order to insert exceptions as new bylaws that do not exist and thus cannot be cited. A cynic would say they are asking for permission to redefine or eliminate amateurism by changing the definition of pay.

“Rules that hinder a student-athlete’s career pursuits unrelated to athletics (e.g., restrictions on a student-athlete promoting his or her musical career) (Bylaws 12.5.2.1 and 12.5.3)”
Bylaw 12.5.3 outlines the type of media activities athletes can be involved in. Bylaw 12.5.2.1 is the bylaw which prohibits athletes from using their name or likeness in commercial promotions or being paid for the use of their name or likeness. Like the reference to Bylaw 12.1.2.1 above, this may be about adding bylaws to create exceptions rather than deleting or changing existing rules. Once again though, the bylaw being cited is much more expansive than the request. A better choice might have been Bylaw 12.5.2.1.1 (exceptions to the basic prohibition on using an athlete’s name or likeness) and Bylaw 12.5.1.3 (continuation of nonathletically related promotional activities after enrollment). Division I is already looking at allowing an even wider range of possibilities, so it might not be that controversial.

“Rules related to a student-athlete’s ability to secure loans for the purpose of purchasing career-related insurance products (e.g., loss-of-value insurance) or permit institutions to provide these expenses (Bylaw 12.1.2.4.4 and 16.11)”
Bylaw 12.1.2.4.4 is an exception to the amateurism rules which allows athletes to secure loans for the purposes of purchasing disability insurance. It does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, i.e. insurance that protects against dropping in the draft rather than being completely prevented from a professional career. Bylaw 16.11, from a previous request, is the main extra benefit bylaw. Since there is already a request for autonomy with no specific plan for Bylaw 16.11, citing it means little. And it is precisely because Bylaw 12.1.2.4.4 is so on the money that the mention of broader bylaws for specific problems looks potentially significant.

“Policies governing athletically-related time demands (Bylaw 17.1.6)”
This bylaw includes all the rules about the limits on required athletically related activities. The weekly hour limits, daily hour limits, required days off, and skill instruction rules are all here. This request is interesting though since it is an example where the power conferences are asking for autonomy to enact rules that potentially put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Management of the recruiting process (e.g., recruiting calendar, visit policies, permissible events for coaches to attend) to address concerns about the infringement of recruiting activities on prospective student-athlete’s academic preparation (Bylaws 13.1.1, 13.1.4, 13.1.5, 13.1.6, 13.1.7, 13.1.8, 13.17)”
A quick rundown of what those bylaws include:

  • Bylaw 13.1.1 – Which prospects coaches can contact
  • Bylaw 13.1.4 – Visits to a prospect’s educational institution
  • Bylaw 13.1.5 – General rule on in-person, off-campus contact with prospects
  • Bylaw 13.1.6 – Contact restrictions at specific sites (e.g., site where prospects are competing)
  • Bylaw 13.17 – Limitation on the number and type of evaluations (both of one prospect and total institutional limits)
  • Bylaw 13.1.8 – Recruiting at banquets, meetings, and NCAA events
  • Bylaw 13.17 – Recruiting calendars

Beyond showing what a mess the recruiting bylaw is, the requests hits on most aspects of off-campus recruiting. Like the athletic time demands, the tone of the request suggests that power conferences would want to limit themselves more than the rest of Division I.

“Outside competition governing student-athlete activities and funding of outside competition by an institution (i.e., rules related to competition during the academic year or summer while the student-athlete is not representing his/her institution) (Bylaws 14.02.9, 14.6, 16.8.1.1, 17.02.8 and each sport’s outside competition regulations in Bylaw 17)”
Bylaw 14.02.9 and Bylaw 17.02.8 are identical definitions of intercollegiate competition. Bylaw 14.6 covers the affect of outside competition on eligibility and the exceptions that allow unattached individual competition, summer basketball, and outside competition during vacation periods. Bylaw 16.8.1.1 is likely a typo. It allows for a $30 per diem while athletes are competing in postseason events. Bylaw 16.8.1.2 was the one likely intended. It outlines what outside competitions for which institutions can pay their athletes’ expenses. The individual sport regulations cover things like how many athletes from one institution can be on one team and whether an institution’s coach can be involved with an outside team that includes the athletes from the same institution.

Basketball looks to be the big potential winner with many of the summer basketball league restrictions being loosened. Institutions might also find themselves able to do more to fund extra competition, training or tryouts for their Olympic and professional hopefuls.

“Seasons-of-competition rules as they relate to a student-athlete’s ability to either regain a season of competition or receive an extension of the five-year clock (Bylaw 14.2)”
This is the most significant request where the scale of the bylaw cited does not match the scale of the request. To deal with regaining seasons and extending clocks, the only bylaws necessary are 14.2.4, 14.2.5, and 14.2.6. The documents cites all of Bylaw 14.2, which also includes the basic eligibility limits (four seasons in five years), determining the use of a season of competition, and the delayed enrollment rules. With autonomy to pass rules in Bylaw 14.2, the power conferences could go to five seasons of eligibility or a six-year clock. Which gets even more interesting when you consider the final request.

“Ability of transfer to rules to to more effective consider the circumstances of individual student-athletes which may permit more flexible policies governing:
– Communication with another institution (Bylaw 13.1.1.3);
– Receipt of athletics aid following transfer (Bylaw 13.1.1.3), and
– Competition following transfer. (Bylaw 14.5)”

The permission to contact bylaw is not a problem, since the penalty for not getting permission to contact is not getting financial aid and it is all contained in Bylaw 13.1.1.3. But Bylaw 14.5 does not just cover competition following a transfer. It includes the transfer eligibility requirements for junior college and 4–2–4 transfers. It includes the basic transfer eligibility rules like the requirement that all four-year college transfers sit out a year unless they can find an exception. It even includes the definition of who is or is not a transfer student. The request seems focused on handling four-year college transfers between NCAA institutions. For that, Bylaw 14.5.5.2 (exceptions for transfers from four-year colleges) is sufficient, or Bylaw 14.5.5 (four-year college transfer rules) would be sufficient.


At best, the autonomy requests show how the governance model is being thrown together too quickly. The wrong bylaws being cited and large portions of the manual that are roped in can be chalked up to poor drafting. Perhaps when Bylaw 14.2 was cited for season-of-competition and five-year clock waivers, Bylaws 14.2.4–14.2.5 were all that were intended.

The end product of the new governance model will be changes to NCAA Bylaw 4 (Organization), Bylaw 5 (Legislative Authority and Process) and Bylaw 20 (Division Membership). If this document is the blueprint for how autonomy for the power conferences would be translated into changes to those bylaws, it would require an lengthy and complicated explanation of not just which bylaws the power conferences can change among themselves, but also in what way. The grant of autonomy would be a long way from finished for something that the NCAA wants in place four or five months from now.

The alternative to focusing on the language of the requests is to assume that the bylaws being cited are critical. For example, power conferences may have ideas about more waivers to help athletes regain seasons or extend their clocks. But most important to them is to have the flexibility to change all of Bylaw 14.2 in ways they may need to down the road but cannot foresee right now.

If this is the case, than the grant of autonomy will not be based in what the original request was. There is nothing about the resource differences between say Texas Christian and Southern Methodist that justifies TCU athletes having more eligibility, different requirements for junior college transfers, or different extra benefit and amateurism rules before athletes even enroll at a collegiate institution.

If the power conferences got authority over every bylaw they requested exactly as they requested it, it would create a situation which increases rather than relieves tension between haves and have-nots. The power conferences would be able to pass changes to NCAA rules as fundamental as how many seasons of eligibility that the rest of Division I would be forced to adopt. It would no longer be about autonomous decision-making but rather a ruling class passing legislation for everyone.

photo credit: afagen via photopin cc


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