For the second consecutive fall, football was at the heart of one of the Division III Interpretation and Legislation Committee’s discussions. And once again, the committee voted to oppose legislation that would ease restrictions on football workouts held in the spring, among other actions.
The committee convened last week in Indianapolis and reviewed legislation that will be considered at the upcoming NCAA Convention.
A group of 22 schools has proposed reshaping the sport’s nontraditional segment – for Division III football, a five-week period in the spring currently used for skill instruction – calling for limits on contact and equipment to be eased significantly. Currently, only hand shields are allowed during the spring sessions, which are designated as noncontact conditioning and instructional periods. The proposal, though, calls for as many as seven days of full-pad practice, with live tackling allowed on three days and two days devoted to full 11-on-11 scrimmages.
The legislation’s intent, its backers say, is to provide football players with skill instruction and development equivalent to that received by athletes in other sports that are out of season. They also note the increase in contact is a necessity because it gives student-athletes more time to learn safe tackling techniques.
“This would provide a better way to teach sport skills and safe play along with preparing student-athletes for the upcoming season,” Amy Carlton, commissioner of the American Southwest Conference, wrote in a recent editorial in Champion magazine. “Now is the time for all Division III stakeholders – coaches, campus administrators, conferences and student-athletes – to have an open and frank discussion to assess football and its spring playing and practice season activities.”
During the interpretations and legislation committee discussion, several committee members worried that a more intensive nontraditional segment in football would interfere in the lives of student-athletes who take part in other sports in the spring, such as track and field. It might force them to choose one sport over the other, committee members warned.
Additionally, easing restrictions on football in the spring could tax athletic training staffs that are already stretched thin. They likely would have to monitor full-contact practices in the spring instead of attending practices or competitions for other sports, the committee argued. Because of those factors, the committee voted to oppose the legislation. Both the Division III Management and Presidents councils will have chances to weigh in on the legislation before January, when it reaches the floor of the NCAA Convention.
“We were in agreement – we think it would not be prudent,” said Jason Fein, chair of the interpretation and legislation committee and athletics director at Drew University. “But the membership will have a say. It will be an interesting year.”
The committee voted to deregulate several rules related to awards, benefits and expenses for enrolled student-athletes. The management council will review these recommendations during its Oct. 21-22 meeting. The deregulations pertain to the following:
- Providing tickets to professional sporting events for student-athletes as team entertainment.
- Removing the condition that requires injuries or illnesses to be “life-threatening” before expenses could be provided to friends and relatives to be present in support.
- Providing meals to a student-athlete’s family members in conjunction with events on campus.
- Giving institutions more discretion regarding providing non-athletic apparel to student-athletes.
“Deregulation has a connotation that we’re opening floodgates,” Fein said. “But there’s a lot of cumbersome language that can be simplified to help alleviate two things: One is keeping the compliance folks on campus from having to monitor these little nuances and taking an eye off the big picture; another is NCAA staff having to provide all of these extra interpretations that are better left to institutional discretion.”
The committee issued an interpretation of a rule pertinent to the early graduation exception, which allows some student-athletes to continue playing if they’ve graduated early but still have eligibility remaining. After reviewing the legislative history of the bylaw, the committee determined that it applies only if that student has begun his or her sport’s traditional segment (preseason practice and regular season) when they graduate. For instance, if a baseball player graduates in December, he would not be eligible to participate in his team’s season the following spring and summer.
“If the goal of the student-athlete is to graduate early and get out into the world, then that’s part of our charge to help them,” Fein said.
The committee also reviewed legislation put forward by the Division III Recruiting Working Group. Committee members expressed concern regarding a proposal that would allow schools to host on-campus athletic evaluations of prospective student-athletes. Insurance issues could arise, they noted, should a recruit get injured during one of those events. Does the prospective student-athlete need to show primary coverage through their parents or other means in order to be able to participate? Does the school need to provide secondary coverage? Where does the liability reside? Given that the proposal does not specify answers to these questions, members will have to take these concerns into account when considering the proposal in January at the NCAA Convention.