NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Okay, so it may not be the biggest show in town this month, what with a little thing called the inauguration in the offing. But for hundreds of college sports officials, the real action kicked off Monday with the start of the 2009 National Collegiate Athletic Association Convention . Throughout the week, the legislative bodies of Divisions I, II and III will consider proposals on a wide variety of issues affecting the academic eligibility of athletes, the role of coaches and the financial commitment of member institutions to athletics.
Division I Overview
This is the first NCAA Convention since the reorganization of the Division I governance structure last fall, which replaced the Management Council with the Leadership and Legislative Councils. The former has a non-legislative role and discusses issues for the division to consider in the future. The latter council will review the more than 75 proposals  -- considered a light legislative load -- Wednesday and Thursday, during sessions at which every Division I conference is allotted a certain number of votes. Conference votes are weighted according to size and playing level, with more voting power given to Football Bowl Subdivision  (formerly Division I-A) conferences than to Football Championship Subdivision  leagues (formerly I-AA) and those without football programs.
If a proposal passes with at least 60 percent of the vote, it is passed along to the Division I Board of Directors for final approval Saturday. If a proposal receives a majority of the vote but does not reach the supermajority, it will stay on the council’s agenda until its April meeting for revision and reconsideration. If every FBS conference voted together for a proposal, it would receive 53 percent of the vote. Therefore, some support from the championship division conferences is needed to push proposals to the supermajority.
Among the more notable proposals the council will consider this week is one that would expand the definition of “prospective student-athlete” for men’s basketball to include those who have begun classes in the seventh grade. The current definition, for all NCAA sports, includes all those who are in the ninth grade and above. While, on the surface, this change might raise a few eyebrows, its supporters claim it will help protect younger athletes from being taken advantage of in the dog-eat-dog recruiting world of men’s basketball.
Currently, men’s basketball coaches and other staff members cannot be employed at camps and clinics in which prospective athletes will participate, meaning those in ninth grade and above. These rules do not apply to camps targeting younger participants who are not of prospective age, so coaches can conceivably "recruit" athletes at such events. Also, rules maintaining that all camps for athletes must be entirely "open" -- meaning that camps cannot be selective of participants based on skill level -- do not apply to those whose participants are below the ninth grade. This environment raises concerns and, according to the proposal’s supporters, makes this reform necessary.
“Non-institutional camp operators conduct elite basketball camps for seventh and eight graders and are employing Division I basketball coaches,” reads the proposal’s rationale. “Coaches feel pressured [to] work at these camps since many of the operators also have ties to non-scholastic teams that include prospects. This situation increases the non-scholastic influence in youth basketball, creates potential recruiting advantages for coaches who are employed at the camps and encourages the practice of early verbal offers and commitments, which can be detrimental to the well-being of youth and the collegiate institutions.”
The council will also consider two similarly worded items that, some argue, would be a blow to the amateur nature of collegiate sports. The proposals would give athletes the ability to accept prize money in athletic competitions “up to [the] actual and necessary expenses” of attending such events. One allows participation in these events during all vacation periods, while the other limits participation to summer vacation only.
Steve Mallonee, the NCAA’s managing director of academic and membership affairs, said he expects this proposal to generate significant debate among the council, given its brush with the concept of amateurism.
In matters more related to the classroom, the Division I council will consider a set of proposals that would allow athletes to count online courses taken both at their institution and other institutions to meet their required minimum of 12 credit hours per semester and their progress toward degree requirement. An alternative set of proposals, submitted by the Big Ten Conference when the measure was considered last fall , would limit an athlete to using online courses to meet a maximum of 50 percent of the minimum requirements for credits per semester and his or her progress toward degree requirement. Currently, online courses cannot be counted toward these requirements for athletes.
Friday, the entire membership of Division I will vote whether or not it should override a recently enacted rule change  that prevents men’s basketball coaches from attending non-school-related tournaments and clinics at which highly rated high school, preparatory school, and junior college athletes gather to display their talents for potential recruiters. Sixty-two institutions requested that the rule be brought before the membership for reconsideration, and it requires a five-eighths supermajority to be rescinded. Some smaller programs, many of whom are opposed to the rule, argue that these catch-all events cut down on their recruiting costs. Many larger programs, with larger recruiting budgets, have not expressed issues with the rule.
Division II Overview
Saturday, the membership of Division II will consider 13 legislative proposals . Unlike Division I, which abandoned such an approach years ago, Division II maintains a governance structure that allows each institution a vote of its own. Also, all proposals must garner a simple majority for passage. After appearing before the entire membership, approved proposals become official bylaws and rules for the division.
Among the noteworthy proposals being considered is one that would allow member institutions to receive contributions -- financial or otherwise -- from professional sports organizations without limitation. Currently, Division II members can accept gifts from professional sports organizations or teams only if the money is put in its general fund and not used for athletics, put in a general scholarship fund and used for athletes and non-athletes alike, or used for marketing a sport if the money is received on the basis of a “reciprocal contractual marketing relationship.” This proposal would remove all of these stipulations. Supporters argue this will foster better relationships with local professional sports teams, which often offer contributions to nearby college athletics programs and teams. They also argue that it does not jeopardize the amateur status of any athletes.
Stephanie Quigg, the NCAA’s director of academic and membership affairs, said many college presidents have reallocated such gifts back to athletic departments after they had been put in their institution’s general fund -- evidence that there is no enforcement as to how this money is ultimately used once it is in the general fund. This change would bring the regulation more in line with current practices. She added there was not a lot of dissent to this proposal in meetings leading up to the convention, noting that it is likely to pass without debate.
Another key proposal would give the Division II Membership Committee the ability to audit an institution’s achievement of membership requirements if it is placed on probation for failure to meet more than one condition during a 10-year period. It would also give the committee the ability to impose penalties to ensure that the member institution meets these requirements in the future. Currently, there is no audit for institutions placed on probation and no formal method by which they can check if they are fit for membership. The probation -- which has no penalties and is meant as a warning – is immediately followed by an expulsion in the current system. Supporters argue this will give institutions in trouble of losing membership an opportunity to correct their mistakes before it is too late.
In an attempt to bring its recruiting process more in line with Division I’s, the Division II membership will consider a proposal that would bar institutions from offering a prospective athlete a National Letter of Intent or “written offer of athletically related financial aid” until he or she has provided the institution with an academic transcript. Though some may be shocked this proposal is not already a Division II rule, Quigg said many institutions have already been using this proposal as best practice. She noted that there have been many anecdotal situations recently in which athletes have arrived on campuses and received scholarships without prior vetting of their academic eligibility.
Other Notable Proposals
- Division III  is considering a proposal to require that all head coaches be certified in “first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automatic external defribulator (AED) use.” Institutions would be responsible for the cost, but grants would be available for some institutions.
- A pair of Division I proposals are being considered that would limit the baseball season either by the number of weeks in a season or reduce it from a maximum of 56 games to 52. Last season, a shortened 13-week season required that many programs play more weekday games, taking many athletes away from the classroom for longer periods of time. The Academics Cabinet argues that the approval of this proposal would “result in less missed class time and time away from campus” and “should contribute to improved academic performance overall.”
- A Division I proposal would shorten the time period men’s basketball players now have to declare themselves for the National Basketball Association draft or play professionally elsewhere. At the moment, players have three months between April and July -- a month after the draft -- to make a decision about returning. Supporters argue this legislation will “encourage student-athletes to refocus on academics sooner and lessen the potential for violations of NCAA rules that will jeopardize their amateur status.”
- A Division I proposal being considered would allow its Administrative Cabinet to deny a Division II institution seeking reclassification to Division I if any of that institution’s sports programs are subject to penalty by the Committee on Academic Performance. Currently, Division I does not take into consideration the Academic Progress Rate of institutions seeking to transition from Division II when making membership decisions. As a result, these institutions are immediately subject to penalties when approved for full membership if they do not meet academic benchmarks along the way. This proposal would halt the approval of underperforming academic institutions before they reach full membership.