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DIII committee weighs in on social media contact

Interpretations and Legislation Committee gives guidance on Convention topics

One Division III committee has voiced its opposition to a proposal that would deregulate social media.

When it convened Sept. 17-18 in Indianapolis, the Division III Interpretations and Legislation Committee voted against a proposal that seeks to relax restrictions on electronic transmissions between coaches and recruits. The proposal would deem permissible any form of electronically transmitted correspondence, including public or private communication through any social-networking site.

The committee, however, felt lifting all restrictions on electronic contact – particularly on social media – would create a litany of unintended consequences.

Division III member schools and conferences will vote on the proposal when they convene at the 2016 NCAA Convention in January in San Antonio. The proposal now heads to the Division III Management Council, which will also consider whether to support or oppose it.

Committee members worried about social media arms races developing among coaches who would feel compelled to reach out to recruits publicly on the platforms. This type of contact could not only be invasive for the recruit, the committee members said, but could increase coaches’ workloads.

Work-life balance for coaches is an issue Division III members have routinely cited as a significant problem.

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and North Coast Athletic Conference, which brought the proposal forward, argue that current legislation regarding electronic transmissions – which permits private contact but prohibits public contact – is outdated and lags behind how recruits and coaches now use technology. The committee agreed with the concept of deregulating some of these rules to keep pace with evolving technology but felt the proposal creates too many potential problems.

“The proposal has some merit that we agree on,” said Jason Fein, chair of the Interpretations and Legislation Committee and athletics director at Drew University. “As it’s written, though, it may have opened things up too much. Simply because something is the easiest way or the most preferred way for a 16-year-old to communicate doesn’t mean that’s how coaches should reach out to them. We want to encourage appropriate and professional communication.”

Other actions:

  • At the behest of the Division III Management Council, the committee reviewed rules pertaining to the use of student-athlete-only weight rooms and decided the guidelines, as written, left no flexibility to ease restrictions until a vote by the membership directly addresses the issue in January.

    In the wake of that decision, the Division III Administrative Committee issued a blanket waiver that permits Division III student-athletes who are outside of their playing and practice season to use facilities reserved only for student-athletes. The waiver will remain in effect pending the membership’s vote on a 2016 Convention proposal, brought forward by a trio of Division III conferences, that would permit college athletes to use an athletes-only weight room outside of their playing seasons and would allow certified strength and conditioning personnel to reserve an institution’s athletic facilities. The waiver also echoes the Interpretations and Legislation Committee’s consensus: It supported the proposal but was unwilling to reverse its interpretation of the current rule until legislation passes.

  • The committee also opposed Convention legislation that would allow college athletes to use their athletic ability at out-of-season institutional fundraisers (e.g., golfers participating in a putting competition to raise money for their schools). The committee lauded the proposal’s intentions but worried it would create a loophole that could be abused.

    Coaches might deem any out-of-season activity a fundraiser and turn it into a de facto practice or organized scrimmage, the committee noted. Or, committee members said, the rule change might create too many voluntary out-of-season events that college athletes might feel compelled to attend. The Management Council will also weigh in on this proposal next month.

  • After the topic generated a great deal of discussion at the 2015 Regional Rules seminars, NCAA staff asked the committee to weigh in on whether leadership-centric programming with an athletic focus would be allowed for student-athletes outside of the playing season. In an effort to limit restrictions, the committee decided those events should be permissible – with caveats.

    To ensure the events truly focus on leadership and don’t too closely mirror athletics activities that occur in season, the committee decided attendance should not be mandatory and the events should not be limited to one team. Holding leadership seminars with an athletic focus for all student-athletes – or a segment of them – should be allowed, the committee argued, but permitting them to occur on a team-by-team basis could open the door for exploitation because those events could easily morph into sport-specific instruction.