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Proposed rule: DIII coaches could assess prospects on campus

New recruiting policies discussed by the Recruiting Working Group also include introduction of a celebratory letter student-athletes can sign when they announce they will attend a Division III school.

What Happened:

The Division III Recruiting Working Group, tasked with improving the Division III recruiting process, agreed on proposed legislation that would allow coaches to host prospective student-athletes for on-campus evaluations. The group also discussed options for a non-binding celebratory letter student-athletes could use when announcing plans to attend a Division III school.

What's Next:

The Recruiting Working Group will review the proposed legislation during a June teleconference call and forward it to the Division III Management Council and Presidents councils. If approved by the councils, the legislation will be considered by the Division III membership at the NCAA Convention in January. On the June teleconference, the working group will also decide whether to propose legislation about a celebratory letter.

Division III coaches could host on-campus evaluations of prospective student-athletes under a proposal discussed Wednesday by the division’s Recruiting Working Group.

The guidelines laid out by the group stipulate that a prospect may begin such evaluations at the start of the junior year in high school, and each prospective student-athlete may attend one evaluation per sport per school per academic year. The on-campus evaluations are also open to potential transfers from two-year colleges; potential transfers from four-year institutions could participate only outside of their declared playing and practice season.

“As a committee we’ve spent hours and hours going through multiple levels of details in order to put forward our best approach,” said committee co-chair David Ellis, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Becker College. “People wanted us to come up with some changes that still try to keep within the Division III philosophy.”

“The philosophy,” added co-chair Karen Tessmer, associate director of athletics, senior woman administrator and head women’s basketball coach at Worcester State, “drives everything we do.”

While the proposed new legislation will limit how often a student can visit a campus to demonstrate athletic skills, it will not limit how often a coach may host such events. That flexibility would allow coaches and schools to set their own policies; one coach may prefer to evaluate prospects by inviting an individual to practice with the existing team during the season, while another might host a “combine-style” event in the offseason to evaluate several at once.

NCAA staff will now work to draft the committee’s consensus into legislation. If approved by the Recruiting Working Group, the legislation will move to the Division III Management Council, which will decide whether to endorse the legislation for a membership-wide vote at the NCAA Convention in January.

In 2012, the management council tasked this group with developing proposals that would improve the division’s recruiting process, with a particular emphasis on helping coaches’ work-life balance. In a straw poll at a Division III issues forum held at the 2014 NCAA Convention, 52 percent of respondents indicated they thought on-campus evaluations would improve recruiting for the division, and 84 percent wanted the group to move forward with legislation.

During roundtable discussions at the forum, attended by about 600 participants, several coaches noted that the on-campus evaluations now banned in Division III would not only be helpful for assessing recruits, but would also help their work-life balance by allowing potential student-athletes to come to them.

Following months of discussion, the Recruiting Working Group on Wednesday hashed out some details of how these on-campus evaluations might operate. Among their recommendations for the legislation:

  • The group chose to avoid the word “tryouts” for these on-campus evaluations because performance will guarantee neither a spot on a team nor, of course, admission to a school.
  • A prospective student-athlete may go through an on-campus evaluation at the start of their junior year in high school. The evaluations are limited to one per sport per school per year; in other words, for each sport in which a prospective student-athlete is interested, he or she may participate in one evaluation at a school anytime between the beginning of their junior year through the summer after their junior year. Then, that prospective student-athlete may choose to return anytime between the beginning of the senior year and the summer after the senior year for a second evaluation.
  • The same timing guidelines apply to first- and second-year students at two-year colleges, but students at four-year schools are prohibited from participating in Division III on-campus evaluations during their playing and practice seasons.
  • The evaluations must take place on campus or at a facility the school uses regularly for practices or competition.
  • To participate in an evaluation, the prospective student-athlete must follow the same medical standards as current Division III student-athletes, such as submitting a valid physical and sickle-cell test results or waiver.
  • Equipment may be provided to the prospective student-athlete on an issue-and-retrieval basis.

Additionally, the Recruiting Working Group discussed options for incoming Division III student-athletes who want to celebrate their decisions at an event resembling a Division I or Division II signing ceremony.

Division III schools do not participate in the National Letter of Intent program, which creates a binding agreement between an NCAA school and a student-athlete in which the student-athlete agrees to attend the school for one year and the school agrees to provide financial aid to the student-athlete.

Increasingly, high school students who have selected a Division III school and want to celebrate their decision ask their chosen schools for a letter they can sign. But because of the Division III prohibition against “letters of intent,” these “signing ceremonies” often involve the prospective student-athlete signing only a piece of school letterhead or even a blank sheet of paper.

The recruiting working group determined that if the NCAA recommends some type of standard celebratory letter for Division III, it will be a non-binding document. Beyond that, the group is still weighing three options:

  • Create a standard letter containing language supplied by the NCAA. This letter, supplied only after the student was offered admission to the Division III college or university, could be printed on the school’s letterhead and would congratulate the prospective student-athlete, welcome them to an institution that participates in Division III athletics and outline the philosophy of the division.
  • Propose legislation that simply omits the prohibition on letters of intent and gives member schools freedom to offer letters that follow the other rules of Division III.
  • Continue with the current policy of allowing celebration signings but do not supply NCAA-provided language to the schools.

The group, which will further discuss the concept of a celebratory letter during a June teleconference, also committed to developing recruiting best practices that it will share with the membership at the 2015 Convention.