They were the most vocal contingent during legislative sessions, but the students representing the interests of college athletes were dealt back-to-back blows over the weekend at the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual convention in Orlando.
First, the Division I membership voted to override its Board of Directors' previous decision that allowed students who have received their undergraduate degrees to transfer to another institution for their graduate work without having to sit out a year of competition, provided that they met eligibility requirements. Then, the same group voted to uphold the board’s decision to defeat a proposed permanent 12th game in the Division I championship football subdivision, which used to be called I-AA. The higher subdivision already has 12 games per year.
In both cases, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee supported the losing side of the vote.
Seventy percent of institutions cast votes against the continuation of the transfer eligibility rule (62.5 percent is needed for an override.) Students generally argued that they should be able to have control over their graduate school choice, and an eligibility and compliance committee of Division I members sided with them.
But coaches expressed concern that the board’s decision created an unruly “free agent” marketplace for college athletes – one in which advisers would encourage students to go wherever they can to get the most exposure.
In the months since the Division I board passed the legislation, NCAA data showed that only a fraction of eligible students had actually transfered under the new rule. Opponents of the plan said that number would only rise.
“Let’s take a look on a case-by-case basis, but let’s not turn everyone loose,” Myles Brand, the NCAA president, said at a press conference.
Fewer than 50 percent of voters supported the permanent addition of the 12th football game.
Report on Athletes’ Choices of Major
NCAA officials also used the occasion of the group's annual meeting to release a report showing that a significant share of athletes say their participation in sports prevents them from selecting their desired major.
Some have said that the NCAA’s progress toward degree requirement, which compels athletes to complete a certain percentage of their required courses each year to remain eligible, forces them to make snap decisions in choosing a major.
Critics can find some helpful data in the report, called “The Study of College Outcomes and Recent Experiences” or “SCORE,” which polled 8,000 former students who graduated from high school in 1994. Thirty-two percent of Division I male athletes who played in the so-called revenue sports said in the survey that playing sports got in the way of selecting the major they wanted.
“That’s a number we need to look into,” said Todd Petr, the NCAA’s managing director of research.
For women and men in Divisions II and III, the number of students who reported having to make a concession because of sports was fewer, and in some cases significantly so. Brand said the telling category in the survey is the one in which students said they regretted having to make the choice. Nine percent in the Division I male revenue category reported regret, as compared with 5 percent of other Division I male athletes and 6 percent of Division I women’s athletes. Fewer than 7 percent of athletes in Divisions II and III said they had such a regret.
Brand said those numbers are “encouraging,” and that the figures wouldn’t look much different had the survey asked the same question of the general student population.
The report showed that roughly 65 percent of Division I athletes said that their grades would be higher if they didn’t play a sport. Roughly 50 percent of Division II and III agreed with that statement.
Business was the most popular major among athletes in each of the NCAA’s divisions, according to SCORE.
The NCAA also released another report showing that the majority of athletes said their professors viewed them more as an athlete than as a student. Not surprisingly, football and men’s basketball players in Division I most often made that assertion.
Brand used part of his state of the association address to encourage athletic administrators to take measures to help boost students’ graduation rates. He also called for more black coaches in Division I football.
Defining Division II
“We have ticker envy,” admitted Charles Ambrose, chair of the NCAA Division II Presidents Council and president of Pfeiffer University, during a meeting about that division’s future. He was referring to the fact that the so-called "crawl" of scores that appears on sports television channels only includes contests from Division I, the NCAA's top competitive level .
In recent years, Division II has lost members to Division I and has become increasingly concerned about its identity, Ambrose said. So its members used the NCAA convention to lay out a campaign, with the slogan, “I chose Division II,” which is intended to help the division with branding efforts.
The strategic planning campaign intends to show the benefits of the Division II experience, including what the official literature calls "participation in high-level academic competition without an overemphasis of sports in student life." The division has commissioned a study to assess what financial benefits its members have over those that migrate to Division I.
“We’re the only division to have a document like this that says what we’re about," said Mike Racy, the NCAA's vice president for Division II.
Also at the Convention...
The University of Miami and Florida International University athletics directors, whose teams sparred in a memorable football brawl last fall, took part in a panel called “Sportsmanship Lessons Learned -- What Happens When Things Go Wrong?” Neither coach said that the pre-game mood on the field that day caused any alarm....
Brand referred to the brawl during his speech, saying that those who called for greater penalties on participants in the brawl didn’t understand the situation. “The presidents knew what they were doing,” he said. “They wanted to use community service to teach respect for others.” ...
Derrick Watkins, a retired gang detective from Orange County, Calif., and former football player at the University of Missouri at Columbia, warned athletics administrators about gang influences in college sports. “I watched a lot of bowl games over the New Year, and I saw a lot of gang signs flashed,” he said.