On Recruiting, Gambling and Drinking

NCAA committees and boards decide on a number of controversial college sports issues.
August 8, 2008

As the costs of recruiting top talent were not already high enough, it may become a lot costlier for some men’s basketball programs to evaluate prospective athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Board of Directors on Thursday reaffirmed its April decision to ban coaches from attending all non-school-related practices, games and tournaments during the busy recruiting month of April. These “nonscholastic” events, as the board terms them, draw together a multitude of talented young players at a central location, allowing coaches to see multiple prospects in the same day at the same venue.

Some critics, however, argued that these events were getting in the way of the academic success of both the prospective athletes being considered and those already playing at the college level, taking prospects away from their studies and coaches away from their players during a critical time of the academic year for both groups of students.

The rule was brought back to the board at the request of 62 of its member institutions, who filed “override requests” that it reconsider the measure. A number of these institutions noted that without the convenience of these catch-all events, coaches would have to travel to multiple schools to view specific players, costing their institutions a hefty sum in travel expenses.

Although the board upheld the earlier decision banning recruiting at these types of events in April, it can still be overturned at the 2009 NCAA Convention in January. David Berst, NCAA’s vice president for Division I, said five-eighths of the attending institutions at the upcoming convention in Washington must vote to officially reverse the rule change. If the ruling is upheld again, it is already in place, as of August 1, for next spring’s recruiting season.

Also announced Thursday, the NCAA’s Executive Committee admitted that it had no control over the use of its players’ names in fantasy sports leagues, even though their use clearly violates one of the association’s eligibility bylaws. The topic came to the fore near the end of July when CBS Sports announced that it was giving its college football fantasy game, offered via its Web site, a major “facelift” in which actual players’ names would be used instead of simply referring to them by their positions. This old method of running college fantasy sports leagues mimics the method in which officially sanctioned college sports video games, released by the developer Electronic Arts, treat players. Likenesses of players and actual names are not used, but references to positions, numbers and actual statistics are used.

In response to the move by CBS Sports, the NCAA announced that this use was a violation of its bylaws. According to Erik Christianson, the NCAA’s director of public and media relations, it went on to state this move may cause institutions and their players to ask CBS Sports to cease and desist from using actual names if they felt their eligibility may be in question as a result of their inclusion in the fantasy game. He added that the NCAA has since sent a letter on behalf of all its student-athletes to CBS Sports stating that its recent move is a violation of NCAA bylaws, and that this public notice protects the eligibility of any student-athletes whose name is used in the game. CBS Sports argues that its use of athletes’ names in a fantasy game has a solid legal foundation, and it has gone on the offensive.

It argues that a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, dating from last October and pertaining to Major League Baseball, justifies its recent move. The case decided that MLB did not own the rights to its players’ names or statistics and that these details may be used by operators of fantasy sports leagues. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the lower court’s ruling by deciding not to hear the appeal.

Following Thursday's meeting, NCAA officials were reluctant to embrace the court’s ruling. Michael F. Adams, chairman of the Executive Committee and president of the University of Georgia, said there was a strong sentiment among committee members to reaffirm and restate the NCAA’s “commitment to amateurism.” While Adams said that the NCAA wants to follow the law of the land, he said it also does not want to move further toward commercialization.

“We’re concerned with the direction it’s taken,” said Myles Brand, NCAA president, referring to the appeals court's decision. “Our bylaws are not consistent with the Eighth Circuit. We will, at some point, have to adjust to the case law. We’re monitoring [the situation] carefully.”

Aside from addressing fantasy sports and the potential for gambling as a result, the Executive Committee also deliberated on another controversial topic: alcohol. Adams said the NCAA is reaffirming its “conservative stance” on the relationship between alcohol and college athletics. The committee has decided to continue with the current policy of banning the sale of alcoholic beverages at NCAA championship events and their advertisement at the venues where those championships are played. According to Christianson, the NCAA does not have control over regular season, conference or Bowl Championship Series games.

In televised events, however, Adams said the NCAA will still continue to allow broadcasters one minute per hour to dedicate to the advertisement of alcoholic beverages that are under 6 percent alcohol -- in other words, beer. These advertisements must, according to the NCAA, make some reference to “drinking responsibly” if broadcast during one of its events.

“We tried prohibition at one time in this country and it didn’t work,” Adams said.

In other announcements following Thursday's NCAA congregation of meetings, the Division I Board of Directors announced that it was introducing a new structure by which programs can bring forth concerns about college football. Berst said the new committee will encompass both the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I and Division IA respectively, and will allow the two to work together to address issues of concern.

Additionally, the Division II Presidents Council announced that it had approved a one-time allocation of $250,000 to be distributed among its member institutions to help with the increasing cost of sports travel. Stephen Jordan, chair of the council and president of Metropolitan State College of Denver, said the council believes that this one-time allocation was the best use of money from its fund balance this year, considering the rising cost of fuel. He added that the funds would be distributed based on the average distance traveled between members of each of the division’s conferences, although exact allocations have yet to be determined.


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