Hoop Dream or Recruiting Nightmare?

Among other decisions at its annual convention, NCAA clears way for 7th graders to be considered official prospects for Division I men's basketball.
January 16, 2009

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- To protect budding middle school basketball talents from being pulled into the sometimes predatory world of recruiting, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has decided officially to consider them prospective college athletes.

Among other actions Thursday, as the association's annual convention continued, the Division I Legislative Council revised its definition of “prospective student-athlete” solely for men’s basketball to include those who have started classes in the seventh grade. As a result of the revision, basketball coaches are now precluded from being employed by non-institutional camps at which seventh and eighth graders play; their institutions are also barred from running such camps.

Considered “emergency legislation” by the council, this measure was overwhelmingly approved due to the concern that the growing number of these elite basketball camps created an unfair recruiting advantage for some institutions and fostered an unhealthy environment for young players.

“That this is a reality of the recruiting landscape is not a positive commentary,” said Steve Mallonee, the NCAA’s managing director of academic and membership affairs. “The need was there to nip it in the bud.”

This basketball revision only changes the definition of "prospective student-athlete" for the purpose of regulating participation in such camps and clinics, meaning that rules for when and how colleges can contact these athletes remain unaffected. For all other NCAA sports, a “prospective student-athlete” remains one who has started classes in the ninth grade. While council members applauded their move to protect these young athletes, they remained concerned about the recruiting atmosphere that led them to their decision.

“It’s a little scary,” Joe D’Antonio, chair of the council and associate commissioner of the Big East Conference, said of the circumstances surrounding the revision. “Where does it stop? The fact that we’ve got to this point is really just a sign of the times.”

Another proposal adopted by the council also further distances NCAA men’s basketball programs from the influence of non-institutional and professional recruiters. The council mandated that member programs cannot employ anyone who coaches or is in any way involved with a “prospective student-athlete” -- in other words, those involved with an outside camp/clinic or who serve as a recruiting consultant.

The council, however, did not take any action on a high-profile piece of legislation that would have shortened from three months to just 10 days the time period during which men’s basketball players can declare to leave college for the National Basketball Association draft. D’Antonio said members of the council generally agreed that the current window was too long but could not come to a consensus on whether the shorter window was preferable. The proposal was not defeated entirely; it will be sent back to the Division I members in the coming months and reconsidered at the council’s next meeting in April.

Although decisions concerning basketball generated the most discussion -- ‘tis the season -- there were some major academic-related issues brought up as well. The council upheld the division’s ban on the use of online courses to meet both an athlete’s 12-credit-hour minimum per semester and the association's progress-toward-degree requirement. The council defeated a proposal that would have allowed an athlete to take all of his or her courses to meet the 12-credit minimum online through the student's home institution. It also defeated a pair of proposals that would have paved the way for athletes to use online courses from institutions other than their own -- including accredited for-profit institutions and community colleges -- to meet both their semester and progress-toward-degree requirements.

Still, the future of online courses for athletes has not entirely been decided. The council sent back one proposal for comment and follow-up vote in April that would allow an athlete to use online courses at his or her institution to meet a maximum of 50 percent of the semester and progress-toward-degree requirements. Officials said the council’s cautious attitude toward this proposal sheds light on the emotions this might rile among academic faculty and parents.

"There are perception concerns," D'Antonio said of athletes taking online courses. "If you have an individual who is a high-profile student-athlete who is taking nothing but nontraditional courses and never setting foot on campus, how is that going to be looked at?"

Those on the other side of the issue, however, argue that this is a matter of equitable treatment. D’Antonio said some on the council maintained that it is unfair that the “average student” can take advantage of online and other non-traditional courses -- such as independent study -- and a varsity athlete cannot.

In other academic matters, the council determined that a Division II institution can be barred from moving into Division I if any of its athletics programs do not meet Division I's minimum Academic Progress Rate -- an NCAA measurement for athletes’ classroom success and graduation rates. Prior to the passage of this proposal, the academic history of an institution did not play a role in its admission to the division, and some institutions entered while simultaneously receiving penalties for their poor classroom performance.

Other notable Division I decisions:

  • A proposal that would have allowed athletes to earn award money -- provided it did not exceed the “actual and necessary expenses” of participation -- in athletic events held during summer vacation was forwarded to the members for further review and comment.
  • An approved measure, proposed by the Big Ten Conference, now clearly gives institutions the authority to provide athletes with a maximum of six complimentary tickets to the postseason events in which they -- or their team -- are participating.
  • Two proposals to either shorten the baseball season by the number of weeks or from 56 games to 52 were both sent back to the membership for further review and comment. Some argue the cramped and lengthy regular season schedule was taking some ballplayers away from the classroom too often.
  • Basketball players can no longer miss class time as a result of “informal practice scrimmages” or events related to them, as a result of a newly approved measure.
  • A measure that would have given the Division I Administrative Cabinet the ability to grant waivers to any tenet of Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) membership requirements was defeated. Before the decision as made, Mallonee said some council members were worried the granting of waivers would have led to a “slippery slope” by which core requirements could be skirted.

The NCAA convention continues today.


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