Goings-On at the NCAA Convention

Division III keeps out the redshirt; academic progress rates coming soon; presidential involvement in Division I; and more.
January 10, 2006

The redshirt year, which allows athletes to practice, but not compete, for one year without losing any of the four years of competitive eligibility, will not be returning to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III, to the delight of presidents who helped push the change two years ago.

The proposal to reintroduce the redshirt, which was banned as part of sweeping reforms at the 2004 convention, lost Monday in a 277 to 128 vote by Division III members.

Philip Stone, president of Bridgewater College, in Virginia, and chair of the Division III Presidents Council, which recommended denying the redshirt, called the vote “really decisive.” He said that the issue is “a bellwether about whether we’ll stay the course or turn around.” 

In 2004, a record number of college presidents showed up to vote, an occurrence that many presidents credited with pushing through major changes. Stone said he wrote multiple letters highlighting particular proposals this year and urging presidents to “talk to your voting delegate,” Stone said. “I think they did pay attention, and that did help.”

Still, some president’s wanted to bring back the redshirt. Don Tencher, the athletics director at Rhode Island College, wrote the proposal to reinstate the redshirt with the encouragement of his president. Like Tencher, many redshirt supporters said that the extra year is a retention tool that can keep a student connected to an institution if he or she is having a difficult first year adjusting to college.

Tencher pointed out that the redshirt is rarely used at most Division III institutions -- three times in 10 years at Rhode Island -- and in a different capacity than in Division I, where athletes can be on scholarship, and it is a given at major programs that recruited athletes will redshirt their first year to prepare for their four years of competition. Tencher said there is already some talk of formulating new proposals “but without the word ‘redshirt’ ” to take away the stigma earned largely by Division I.

Only about 100 of the 419 Division III institutions are public, and some presidents who argued for the redshirt noted that few of their students graduate in four years. “The retention argument, that you need something to keep their interest [for five years], is a legitimate argument,” Stone said. “But it doesn’t persuade me. It’s a bad incentive system. The incentives should say, ‘let’s make this a four-year experience,’ and if it takes longer you shouldn’t playing more.” Tencher added that it might make sense to form a group specifically to represent the interests of public institutions within Division III. 

Rejecting a Presidents Council recommendation, however, the membership voted 203-199 not to subtract a year of eligibility from an athlete who redshirted in Division I or II and then transferred to Division III. “I’m not too upset about that one,” Stone said. “Even people who voted for the redshirt ban were sympathetic in this case.”

A proposal to lengthen the “nontraditional season” for several sports -- practice and competition time outside of the regular season -- never made it to the convention floor. The proposal was in the published legislation to be considered, but it lost some supporters at the last minute and was never introduced for a vote. 

Two other proposals did not get a final vote. Further review will be done regarding a proposed cap on the number of institutions allowed in Division III, and on whether to allow athletes who graduate early to use their extra eligibility as graduate students at another institution. 

Looking toward the APR

Next month, the NCAA hopes to unveil two years’ worth of Academic Progress Rate data, which will be used for the first time to assess penalties against Division I sports programs. 

The APR is designed to provide a real-time look at how well individual Division I teams are doing at ushering athletes toward graduation. Points are awarded for each semester an athlete stays enrolled and academically eligible. The idea is to gauge the academic climate of a team without waiting six years for the complete graduation data of a given class. 

So far, only about 55 percent of institutions have completed submitting APR data, according to Walt Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance. Many of the others are likely requesting a score adjustment or waiver exempting them from immediate penalties. “We’re granting many more than we’re denying,” Harrison said. “We want to be sure to give individuals a chance to describe their circumstances, especially this first time around.” Harrison added that, based on the preliminary data, “things are following the pattern you’d expect. There are no significant problems in women’s sports … no particular problems in non-revenue sports.” 

The committee is also discussing whether to reward teams for outstanding performances. Public recognition for such programs is one idea that was discussed, but Harrison said there is some opposition to rewarding teams for something “they’re supposed to be doing,” said. There was some discussion of using money from the NCAA’s $6.2 billion, six-year contract with CBS for the television rights to the men’s basketball tournament, both to provide money for academic support personnel for institutions in need, and for academic performance incentives. “My own belief is that the greatest incentive or disincentive is public approval or approbation,” Harrison said. 

Update on Division I Task Forces

The four subcommittees of the Presidential Task Force on the Future of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics, which were created in May, gave updates of their progress on Sunday.

The subcommittees -- whose topics are “implications of academic values and standards,” “fiscal responsibility,” “presidential leadership of internal and external constituencies,” and “student-athlete well being” -- have identified areas of greatest concern, and are soliciting advice and recommendations for reports they hope to publish in the fall. 

Members of the fiscal responsibility subcommittee noted that the “college athletics enterprise” is not currently in fiscal crisis, but that as institutional operating budgets have shrunk, some institutions have had to allocate more money from student fees toward athletics. In the long run, for many institutions, “the current growth is not sustainable,” said Sidney A. McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State University. Myles Brand, NCAA president, said later that the average growth of spending at many Division I institutions’ athletics programs has been about three times that of the university as a whole. 

“In the next half-dozen years, we’ll see a point where people aren’t happy about that,” Brand said. He added that institutions often increase spending on sports because they assume the competition is doing it. Brand said that improved financial transparency among sports between programs could help control runaway growth, and that institutions should not shy away from commercial activities as a source of revenue. It was a point Brand made point strongly on Saturday in his state of the association address: “To some extent it is felt that it is improper … for the NCAA to be engaged in business activity. Athletics departments need the revenue,” Brand said. “ ‘Amateur’ defines the participants, not the enterprise.” 

One common theme of all the subcommittees’ suggestions was the need for presidential involvement with athletics so that areas of concern can be tracked, and athletics can be fully integrated into the larger institution. “From the general public, they’re saying, ‘what do [presidents] know about athletics? They never participated,’ ” said John White, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “Nevertheless, we are in charge.” White and other chief executives shared some of their strategies for staying involved.

Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia, has a staff member in his office “who knows everything” about athletics, he said, and acts as the “point of contact for my athletic director.” 

McPhee established a senior vice president position at Middle Tennessee State for a staff member responsible for the day to day control of athletics. McPhee prefers a strategy he called “MBW” -- “management by walking around” and talking to coaches. “You want them to know you are there … be involved without coming across like you want to be the basketball coach,” 

Karen Holbrook, president of Ohio State University, talks to the athletics director AD several times a week. She holds regular meetings with her faculty athletic representative, and moved academic support programs for athletes out of the athletics department and into the Office of Academic Affairs, where there is now an academic liaison to the athletics department. “I include athletics in all my major talks,” Holbrook said. “Not just from a wins standpoint, but about their community service, or how many members of a team have a 3.0 [grade point average].”

White said that the Arkansas-Fayetteville has two athletic directors, one for men’s and one for women’s sports. “The needs are different, the marketing is different, I don’t understand” why more people don’t have two A.D.’s, he said. White also makes sure to show his face around town. “I told my wife, ‘if we’re going to football, we’re going to all of it,’ ” he said. There may be such a thing as too much presidential involvement, however. White said he thinks that he’s “the only chancellor in the country who has gotten warnings from tennis umpires.”

Brand Interviews Cronkite!?

On Sunday night, the NCAA's president, Myles Brand, had a chance to interview Walter Cronkite in front of convention attendees. Most of the hour-and-a-half session centered on Cronkite’s views on journalism and history -- he chose the first lunar landing as the greatest news story of all time -- but Brand did slip in a college athletics question. “One unique feature of American education is that we combine sports with education,” Brand said. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“I think it’s a very good idea,” Cronkite said, as long as the payment for being a good college athlete is restricted to an education. Cronkite then told Brand he should make sure to “straighten that out,” he said. “I’ll take that to heart,” Brand replied, to Cronkite’s “I thought you might.”  

Cronkite, who attended but did not graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, then gave a “hook ‘em horns” sing,” and noted Texas’ national championship football team before maligning the television coverage of the Rose Bowl for not having enough tight shots of the action on the field.


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