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DI forum participants laud reforms, but some want slower pace

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick

The Division I membership had  its first opportunity to publicly comment on the concepts working groups have created since the August 2011 presidential retreat, and the response supported the effort to make student-athlete well-being the top priority in intercollegiate athletics.

Representatives from each working group (student-athlete well-being, resource allocation, rules and enforcement) presented concepts to the Division I Issues Forum. Some changes, such as the miscellaneous expense allowance and multi-year grants, have already been adopted but will be reconsidered by the presidents Saturday.

The delegates at Friday’s forum spoke generally in support of the miscellaneous expense allowance and multi-year grants, with some caveats. Several delegates asked that the speed of adoption and implementation be reduced.

“This work is transformational. We look forward to a new day,” said California Athletics Director Sandy Barbour. “I stand in support of a delay in implementation and an extended effective date (for the miscellaneous expense allowance). Those of us in support are doing it because it’s the right thing to do for our student-athletes. Let’s get it right. A delay may draw criticism, but that criticism will be even deeper and longer-lasting if we do not get it right.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert addressed process at the beginning of the session. He said the method of adopting the proposals wasn’t intended to be confrontational but instead deliberative and decisive.

“We’re trying to look at the real challenges and opportunities in front of us and find solutions that work in a highly diverse Division I,” he said. “It isn’t about somebody winning or somebody losing. It’s about what we can do together, how we can do it in a way that makes sense with the best information we can and in real time.”

The Board will consider recommendations from the resource allocation working group for the first time Saturday. Those recommendations include eliminating foreign tours, reducing scholarships in football and women’s basketball, limiting non-coaching personnel, and capping the current competitive season lengths and numbers of contests in all sports.

These recommendations drew little support from forum attendees, many of whom spoke in favor of retaining particularly the foreign tours, asserting that the trips are often the only opportunity student-athletes have to experience a different culture.

“Student-athletes have such a demand on their time that we don’t have the ability to go study abroad,” said Lauren Cochlin, a soccer student-athlete at Wisconsin who served on the group. “We realize there are a lot of tough decisions to be made, and this working group reflected that. I was pleased with the amount of respect and how much my voice was heard on behalf of Division I student-athletes.”

Recommendations from the rules and enforcement groups are on a longer timeline and will become more concrete in coming weeks. The rules group is focused on creating a new structure based on the NCAA’s enduring values. The group is defining principle-based outcomes and a set of underlying operating bylaws to support those outcomes. It expects to have firmer information to circulate over the next few months.

The enforcement group has proposed a four-level violation structure, an expanded Committee on Infractions divided into panels, and a revamped penalty structure to match the violation levels. The group will also ask the Board to consider appointing a new working group to address the issue of institutional integrity.

At the close of the forum, Oregon State President Ed Ray, who moderated the session, predicted that while the presidentially led working groups will likely be disbanded at some point, the familiar legislative process in Division I will never be the same.

“We want to make fundamental changes in the way we are doing things,” he said. “We expect to get back to legislative processes and predictable ways of getting things done, but hopefully they are better ways.”