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The NCAA's New Rules

January 16, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- After weeks of buildup, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Board of Directors finally revisited its rule that -- before it was suspended because so many institutions opposed it -- gave colleges permission to award athletes on full scholarships up to $2,000 more in aid. The board of Division I presidents didn't give up on the legislation, but consented to modify it, putting an altered version of the rule on the agenda for April's board meeting.

Also here on Saturday, the last day of the NCAA's annual convention, the board stood firm on the other especially controversial proposal that emerged from an August retreat of university leaders called by the association's president, Mark Emmert, in response to criticisms of declining integrity, academic standards and financial sustainability.

That proposal, approved by the board at its October meeting, permitted colleges to award multiyear scholarships. The number of colleges opposing the multiyear rule (more than 75) wasn't high enough to trigger an automatic suspension (as was the case with the $2,000 aid rule, which more than 125 institutions spoke out against). But because the board opted Saturday not to modify the rule to appease the colleges, it will go to a February vote of all 355 Division I members, where it will be killed if at least five-eighths of colleges line up against it.

Also at Saturday's meeting, the board voted down two proposals brought forward by its Resource Allocation Working Group; one would have cut costs by eliminating off-season travel to foreign competitions, and another aimed to shrink the number of scholarships from 85 to 80 in top football programs and from 15 to 13 in women's basketball. The board did approve a decade-long moratorium on increasing the number of games and length of seasons in all sports.

In a news conference following Saturday's board meeting, Emmert said it "would be inaccurate to describe this as a setback" for the $2,000 scholarship bump, as it's really "an attempt to get it right." If the board approves the modified proposal in April, the rule will face another 60-day comment period during which colleges could again shoot it down if they're not satisfied. (Athletes who signed while the rule was enacted will still be eligible for the extra aid, the NCAA said.)

The "miscellaneous expenses" rule was intended to help cover the gap between what an athletic scholarship provides and the full cost of attending college, which averages a few thousand dollars but can reach $11,000, depending on the institution. But colleges worried that the rule could violate gender equity laws under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and that it could allow the wealthiest programs -- if they chose to meet the full cost of attendance, and others did not -- to stockpile athletes.

"We heard the voices, the concerns expressed," Sidney McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State University, said in a Friday session here in which presidents and NCAA administrators updated convention attendees on initiatives from the August retreat.

However, McPhee, who chairs the Student-Athlete Well-Being working group that developed the legislation and who read every college's formal comments against it, warned that the working group that submitted the proposal couldn't please everyone: "There were people who were just fundamentally opposed to providing any additional aid," mainly because of budget issues, he said. "We certainly respect that view, but we do feel that it's time that we take a serious look at this adjustment."

But even some who would have benefited from the rule were wary of it. The cost-of-attendance rule could be helpful in offsetting educational expenses, but questions remain about whether it would allocate the "proper funds" to the athletes who need and deserve them, said Eugene Daniels, a Colorado State University football player who represents the Mountain West Conference on the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Daniels added that while the multiyear scholarship would be advantageous for athletes in terms of the security it would provide, it's possible that some athletes, having been awarded long-term aid, could become "complacent."

Some athletics directors at that session, including Sandy Barbour of the University of California at Berkeley, and Mike Alden of the University of Missouri at Columbia, said they support the multiyear scholarship rule but, because of financial and logistical concerns, would like more time before the NCAA enacts the rule. Alden, who also chairs the division's Leadership Council, suggested a start date of July or August 2013. Under the current legislation, athletes in the upcoming February and April signing periods would be eligible for multiyear grants.

When discussion turned to the prospect of banning foreign exhibition tours, some administrators spoke in favor of a rule that would have encouraged athletes to study abroad in an academic setting, rather than one focused on competition. But others, including an athlete who served on the working group that proposed the rule, said that just wasn't practical; many athletes don't even have the time to hold a job, much less to travel overseas.

Measures to reduce costs drew significant ire from some administrators, including Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. "I do believe honestly that the task is not difficult -- it is impossible. And that what you see with these proposals is an effort to try and restrain spending at the expense of student-athletes with no understanding of what the outcome will be," Perlman said. Regarding the proposal that would have eliminated some scholarships to save money, he said, "I don't know of an athletic department that won't spend every penny it has."

"I just think this is bad publicity and it's bad policy," Perlman continued. "This is a part of the old culture of the NCAA, of trying to regulate the details of trying to get competitive equity when you can't do it." (Restrict the number of scholarships a high-profile program can award, Perlman said, and they'll just spend the money on "temples" or "iPods in showers.")

The board also tabled a recommendation to cut costs by limiting the number of non-coaching employees such as videographers, administrative personnel and strength and conditioning trainers, asking the Resource Allocation group to bring back a new version in April. This version would have permitted only 12 such staff in football and six in men's basketball; some officials seemed confused or concerned Friday when they heard about the proposal's details. At Saturday's press conference, Emmert said that the presidents have a strong desire to address the issue, but that "the devil's in the details."

On Friday, Michael F. Adams, president of the University of Georgia and chair of the Resource Allocation Working Group, acknowledged tensions over the proposals he helped bring forward. "Of all the things I've done in the NCAA in the last 30 years, this has been the least popular," he said, noting surveys that show men's and women's basketball on average use only 11 or 12 scholarships. "I do agree that these are difficult issues, but it was not based on something pulled out of the air."

And lastly, on Saturday, the board approved a one-year moratorium on new legislation, excluding emergency legislation and anything from the presidential reform agenda. The day before, Emmert's contract was extended an additional two years, pushing its end date to October 2017.

Division II

With little debate, Division II institutions approved legislation last week that will ease recruiting restrictions on multiple fronts. To make better use of new technology and to put athletes on a more level playing field with non-athletic recruits, colleges supported a number of changes.

First, programs will be allowed to visit athletic prospects on an unlimited basis beginning June 15 before the student's junior year in high school. That rule lifted a previous thrice-per-year limit to in-person, off-campus contact, and gave coaches an extra year in which to do it.

Athletics programs will also have more time to contact recruits via e-mail and fax, with the passage of legislation that moved the permissible start date for such correspondence from Sept. 1 before an athlete's junior year to June 15 of the same year. It also lifts the one-call-per-week limit on programs, and allows unlimited phone calls beginning June 15 before the junior year, a year earlier than the previous start date. Finally, the rule upholds the use of instant messages, text messages and message boards, but now permits all three beginning June 15 before the recruit's junior year, rather than the calendar day after the athlete makes a written commitment or financial deposit.

The proposals made sense not just to the coaches who wanted to reach students more effectively, but also to presidents and athletics officials and to athletes who are in college now, said Rick Cole Jr., athletics director at Dowling College, in New York, and chair of the Division II Management Council. It's about "what makes sense for today and tomorrow," Cole said in an interview the day before the voting at Saturday's business session. "If you're not communicating effectively, I think you limit your success potential."

And that includes social media -- as long as the correspondence is private. So, for example, a coach could send a recruit a message on Facebook, but couldn't write on said recruit's "wall."

Division II also adopted legislation that: requires new conferences to contain at least 10 active member institutions, effective Aug. 1, 2013; requires conferences to have at least eight members effective Aug. 1, 2017, then at least 10 institutions effective Aug. 1, 2022; allows the Management Council to limit the number of applicant conferences that could be invited to active membership; and increases from two years to five the waiting period for a new conference to be eligible for automatic qualification.

Division III

Coaches in Division III can now use text messaging to communicate with recruits, with 418 of 467 institutions voting in favor of a rule designed to ease communication with students who increasingly prefer texting to e-mail or phone calls. Colleges will now be allowed to send unlimited texts, under the same rules that regulate other forms of electronic recruitment media. (Unlike Division II, Division III did not include social media, out of privacy concerns.)

Legislation that would have limited strength and conditioning workouts during the off-season and on in-season off-days was withdrawn over concerns about ability to monitor off-season activities. The New England Collegiate Conference and the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference, which sponsored the proposal, had said earlier last week that they wanted to revise the legislation to focus more on the in-season component.

Yet another withdrawal, this one of legislation that was opposed by most governance groups because it would have applied only to a few athletes, was probably disappointing to the sponsors of a proposal that they said would allow injured students to better focus on their health. The rule would have charged an athlete with a full season of eligibility for practicing with the team after sustaining a season-ending injury.

 

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