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Texas and USC Comments Show Difficulty of Reforming NCAA

Today is the start of the April 2014 meeting of the NCAA Division I Legislative Council. The Legislative Council is something of a lame duck, about to be replaced by a new committee heavily populated by athletic directors. But there is still some business to attend to including two important proposals regarding student-athlete health and welfare.

Proposal 2013–17 and its variant 2013–17–1 would both better ensure that an individual trained in CPR, AED use, and first aid would be present at all required athletic activities. Proposal 2013–17 would accomplish this by requiring that all coaching staff members be certified in CPR, AED use, and first aid. Proposal 2013–17–1 would require that an individual with the same certifications be present at any required athletic activity.

Proposal 2013–31 addresses the nutritional needs of athletes by allowing institutions to provide more food to athletes and like 2013–17, it has divided into two alternatives. Proposal 2013–31-A would permit institutions to provide meals incidental to practice activities and while the student-athlete is representing the institution in noncompetitive events, as well as snacks at any time. Proposal 2013–31-B would permit institutions to provide meals or snacks at their discretion as a benefit incidental to participation. The biggest practical difference is that 2013–31-A would only allow the additional meals during the playing and practice season, while 2013–31-B would allow institutions to provide meals at any time during the academic year.

Both proposals failed to get the two-thirds support necessary for adoption at the NCAA Convention in January. That put them into a comment period before they are taken up again by the Legislative Council this week, this time needing simple majority support. The comment period was relatively calm, with only a handful of institutions providing comments. But the [most revealing comments][( (starting on page 78 of this PDF) about how the NCAA works and why the Division I Manual is the way it is came from Texas and Southern California.

Texas and USC filed comments in opposition to Proposal 2013–17, the CPR, AED, and first aid certification requirement for all coaches. The fact that Texas and USC are opposing the proposal is not remarkable. Why they opposed the proposal is more relevant. From Texas:

We support requiring a certified individual to be present, but we do not support making every coach be certified. Because coaches must receive certification prior to engaging in any coaching activities with student-athletes and there is no grace period in the event a coaching staff member is hired midseason or suddenly, the timing potentially interferes with a coach’s job expectations. In addition, athletic training staff and strength and conditioning staff are required to be certified and, in most sports, are always present during any practice activity. Our preference is the NCAA not legislate and leave to institutional discretion OR modify so that there is a requirement that an individual that is certified (regardless of position) always be present in any required/countable physical activity by student-athletes. The later might require a coaching staff be certified if they are a sport that does not always have an athletics trainer present at practices. The proposal should also not require a certified individual be present in team meetings or film review where no physical activity is conducted.

The point of Proposal 2013–17 is to change the job expectations of coaches, to greater emphasize student-athlete safety and welfare. The whole idea of the proposal is that if a coach does not have the certifications, he or she is not yet qualified to supervise student-athletes in athletic activities. USC raised similar concerns:

  • Due to the immediacy of this proposal’s certification requirement, some institutions may have difficulty locating instructors to certify personnel.
  • Logistically it will be difficult to manage during a coaching staff transition that takes place (sometimes within a short amount of time or mid-season).

USC’s comments are even tougher to swallow for two reasons. First, the logistical issues might be a problem for some institutions, but not USC. A power conference school in a major metropolitan area should have plenty of options to get certification classes set-up on short notice. Institutions like USC and Texas might even start requiring their athletic trainers to be certified as CPR, AED, and first aid instructors so they can do certifications as soon as coaches are hired. USC also does not sound like it would support Proposal 2013–17–1, although Texas does. USC would instead create another NCAA rule which requires institutions to have a policy, like for concussion management, but without many requirements about what that policy must include, only topics it must cover.

On the food front, USC supported both Proposal 2013–31-A and 2013–31-B, and preferred 2013–31-B (the greater deregulation) without reservation. Texas ultimately supported Proposal 2013–31-B but not before the NCAA clarified what it means and while still wondering about some questions:

Support and prefer over 2013–31-A based on Q&A clarification that cannot be used to supplement regular meals expected to be provided as an element of financial aid.
Support concept that allows for institutional discretion to appropriately fuel student-athletes to ensure they are able to sustain a high level of training year round. However, we are not supportive of legislation that opens an opportunity for abuse by allowing institutions to provide meals and for student-athletes to pocket their board allotments. This appears to be addressed in the February 25, 2014 Q&A issued by the NCAA that states, “Such meals may be provided at the institution’s discretion during the playing season when classes are in session; however, the proposal was not designed to provide an avenue for institutions to circumvent institutional financial aid limitations. Meals incidental to practice are intended to meet the additional nutritional needs of the institution’s student-athletes and may not be provided in place of regular meals (i.e., breakfast, lunch and dinner) which continue to be an element of a full grant-in-aid.”
We believe the NCAA may still need to clarify how this applies for non-scholarship student-athletes or equivalency aid student-athletes not receiving board. There is a concern for abuse in equivalency sports by intentionally not providing a board scholarship and providing meals through this legislation enabling them to maximize the number of student-athletes they can put on aid.

Texas’s comments would be understandable but they are missing a critical elements: an alternative proposal. If Texas’s objections about abuse were an objection to the creation of a loophole which swallows the rule, that makes sense. Better to simply acknowledge that this will happen and to deregulate food completely. But Texas does not make such a suggestion, then goes even further by raising the concern with equivalency scholarships. That makes it seem more likely that Texas is truly concerned about abuse, not just poor legislative drafting.

If expanded meals allow an institution to stretch their equivalency budget, what problem does that create? Of all the unintended consequences of NCAA proposals, this sounds like one of the more positive. Without increasing the equivalency limits, it allows institutions to put more athletes on scholarship or give bigger scholarships to those currently on very small equivalencies like a book scholarship. It is also hard to square this with Texas AD Steve Patterson’s comments in support of cost-of-attendance scholarships. Those would do the same thing by adding thousands of dollars into the equivalency budget which could then be spread to more athletes.

Schools like Costal Carolina, William and Mary, and George Washington, and Iona all supported 2013–31-B without reservation. Only one school, James Madison, opposed both proposals on the grounds of cost.

So much right now is made of the divide between haves and have-nots, but Texas showed once again that not even the haves are on the same page. Both USC and Texas also showed the resistance to more regulation on the student-athlete health and safety front, which is why the lawsuits to force the NCAA to adopt higher standards across the board will continue.

Atlanta Metropolitan College Sports Recruiting. 

Austin College Sports Recruiting.

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