NCAA Debates New Rules

At annual convention, athletic association's legislative bodies to consider proposals on a wide variety of issues affecting recruiting, eligibility and institutional finances.
January 11, 2010

The 2010 National Collegiate Athletic Association Convention kicks off tomorrow in Atlanta. For the remainder of the week, the legislative bodies of Divisions I, II and III will consider a broad slate of proposals concerning everything from the recruitment and academic expectations of athletes to the financial commitment of member institutions to their athletic enterprises.

Division II Overview

Though much of the outside focus on the NCAA Convention tends to focus on Division I, some of the more significant legislative changes under debate this week concern Division II. The members of division will consider 16 pieces of legislation Saturday. Unlike in Division I, institutions vote individually, and proposals require only a simple majority for passage.

The most important pieces of legislation to be considered at the convention for Division II are grouped together as a package under the moniker, “Life in Balance.” Combined, these six proposals would shorten the athletic seasons for many sports by either reducing the number of official contests or the amount of time teams have for “preseason” practices and scrimmages. Also, one of the proposals would establish a “dead period” from Dec. 20th through the 26th, during which sports teams could not practice or play. These potential changes are the result of a recent charge from the division’s President’s Council “to examine whether Division II student-athletes spend too much time on athletics pursuits.”

“Ultimately, these changes improve student-athlete well-being and health and safety by reducing the amount of missed class time, missed study time, and time away from campus for intercollegiate athletics participation,” wrote Stacey Osburn, an NCAA spokesperson, of the package in an e-mail. “As an incidental benefit, they reduce costs for institutions.”

Many NCAA watchdog groups, such as the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, have publicly expressed their support for this package and applaud the academics-first attitude behind it.

Division I Overview

The Division I Legislative Council will consider nearly 100 pieces of legislation proposed by various NCAA committees and athletic conferences.

One of the more significant proposals under consideration this week would allow prospective college athletes to compete for professional teams prior to enrollment in college as long as they do not receive payment in excess of the “actual and necessary” costs to participate on that team. Currently, even if prospective college athletes are not compensated, they will lose their NCAA eligibility simply by playing alongside other athletes who are paid. If approved, the eligibility focus would shift to the circumstances of the individual athlete instead of the nature of his or her team. The change would apply to all sports but men’s ice hockey.

A recent investigative report by ESPN about the proposal explains that it was penned as a result of the increasing number of international athletes playing in the NCAA. The reported notes that, unlike in the United States, “promising athletes” in many foreign countries “are groomed in clubs that sponsor teams all the way from the youth level to the senior level, where expenses and -- sometimes -- salaries are paid.” The proposed rule change would clarify which athletes on these teams institutions can recruit, as there has been some confusion among the NCAA membership as well as unequal recruiting tactics.

In matters related to the classroom, the council will consider a proposal that would further define what kinds of online courses athletes may take to satisfy NCAA initial eligibility requirements while either in high school or community college before enrolling at an NCAA institution. The proposal, a revision of a rule change adopted last year that finally allowed athletes to count online courses toward NCAA eligibility requirements, would mandate that instructors and students in such courses “have regular interaction with one another for purposes of teaching, evaluating and providing assistance to the student throughout the duration of the course.”

Additionally, the proposal would require that all athletes’ online class work be made available “for evaluation and validation by the NCAA Eligibility Center.” Though not a major change to existing eligibility rules, NCAA officials argue it would go a long way to ensure the quality of online courses taken by athletes.

“The recent increase in the prevalence of nontraditional courses has created a number of challenges in the determination of initial eligibility for prospective student-athletes, particularly related to ensuring that courses are academically sound and meet the NCAA definition of core courses,” reads a rationale for the legislation from the division’s Academic Cabinet. “Additional challenges are presented by the emergence of institutions providing courses that are not regulated by a regional accrediting agency or state educational authority.”

Finally, in an effort to make their member institutions more environmentally conscious, the council will consider a proposal that would ban them from printing media guides, recruiting guides and all other athletics publications, except for game programs. The accompanying rationale for the measure, put forth by the Pacific-10 Conference, notes that the printing of these materials “is an unnecessary allocation of limited resources” and that there is the “potential for significant cost savings” if these materials are simply posted online instead.

Individual member institutions within Division I do not have individual votes; instead, their athletic conferences vote as single entities and are represented by designated individuals on the Legislative Council. Conference votes, however, are weighted according to the size and playing level of their member institutions. For example, more voting power is given to Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) conferences than to Football Championship Subdivision leagues (formerly I-AA) and those without football programs.

Division III Overview

The membership of Division III will consider nine pieces of legislation Saturday. These institutions have their own vote, and proposals require a simple majority.

The division, known best for its ban on athletically related scholarships, has had an identity crisis of sorts in recent years as some of its core principles have faced challenge from newer member institutions. Two years ago, inter-division conflict came to a head when the division’s membership nearly held a vote to split apart into scholarship and non-scholarship divisions.

Though NCAA officials said at last year’s convention that the division would try to have proposals ready for this year’s convention regarding ongoing conflicts within the membership such as red-shirting rules and the potential offering of “athletic leadership” scholarships, no such proposals are on this year’s docket. Instead, among the pieces of legislation the membership will consider is a proposal that reinforces the role of college presidents in the division’s leadership.

“Presidents and chancellors have the ultimate leadership responsibility within the NCAA’s governance structure; however, the Division III Philosophy Statement currently contains no specific reference to the leadership expectations related to presidents and chancellors at the institutional, conference or national governance levels of the division,” reads a rationale for the proposal from the division’s President’s Council, noting that such a change "is not meant to threaten institutional and conference autonomy."


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