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Time spent on athletics may get Convention review

Division I hopes to set clear guidelines for hours required of student-athletes

The Division I Council focused its attention on enhancing the student-athlete experience at its meeting that concluded today in Indianapolis. Members reviewed concepts for both potential legislation and recommended best practices that could alter the way Division I college athletes spend their time.

Members targeted the 2017 NCAA Convention for a vote on potential proposals intended to allow student-athletes to pursue additional educational opportunities outside athletics.

While exact proposals are still being developed, Council members are confident that a package of proposals – in concert with additional measures adopted by the 65 schools in the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences – will help students take advantage of the full collegiate experience.

“The student-athletes themselves are guiding our discussions, and we look forward to hearing their thoughts and ideas after they meet in mid-July,” said Council chair James J. Phillips, athletics director at Northwestern University. “Their input will be a vital piece of any legislative proposals we introduce.”

Rachel Scott, who is pursuing her master’s degree in advertising and plays softball at the University of Texas at Austin, urged the other Council members to act.

“It’s really encouraging that we are being heard,” said Scott, who sits on the Council and serves as co-chair of the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “We want something to happen sooner rather than later. We understand this is a complex issue and parts of it will need further investigation, but we need something to happen to show that this body is moving things forward.”

Collaboration between all segments of Division I will be vital. According to the redesigned governance process, new rules that would restrict the amount of time a Division I student can spend on athletics must be voted on by the 65 schools in the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences. Schools in the remaining 27 conferences may choose to adopt the new rules – or not.

Any proposal that would expand a rule or definition falls under the Council’s authority. Both groups are working together to craft legislative – and other – changes that will allow students to find an ideal balance between athletics, academics and other needs.

For example, the Council could create a definition for “required athletically related activities” that fall outside the current “countable athletically related activities.” Students currently are allowed to participate in up to 20 hours of countable athletics activities per week. Practice and competition are included in that category. Required athletically related activities would include compliance meetings, promotional activities, media activities and prospective student-athlete host duties. The new term wouldn’t change what counts toward the 20-hour limit, but would offer students a clearer picture of what additional athletics activities entail.

In concert with that new term, the autonomy conferences are considering a requirement that teams create an annual time management plan that would include both countable and other required athletically related activities. Blake James, athletics director at the University of Miami (Florida), presented the potential proposal to the Council members and sought their feedback.

The plan must be developed by head coaches in collaboration with administrators and students. The document, to be approved by the athletics director and distributed to students on the team, must include not only traditional activities considered countable against the 20-hour weekly athletics activity limit but also any activity required, recommended or sponsored by the coach or athletics department. Medical and rehabilitation activities, as well as academic support, would be excluded from both required and countable athletically related activities.

Each team’s plan also would include one required day off per week during the season, and two days off per week during the offseason. Travel would not count as a day off, and no countable or other athletically related activities would be allowed on days off. Students also would have eight consecutive hours free from athletics activities overnight, in a single block to be scheduled between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The plan also would call for a week off after the season plus an additional 14 days off during the academic year.

Bob Scalise, athletics director at Harvard University and chair of the Student-Athlete Experience Committee, shared the work of his committee and its subcommittee on time demands. In addition to defining required athletics activities, the group is considering recommendations that would require schools – through legislation – to educate prospective student-athletes about the requirements of Division I athletics and would provide schools with best practices for time management programs as part of the legislatively required life skills program for student-athletes. 

Phillips stressed that the work was just beginning. The proposals introduced this year will be the first of what is anticipated to be a multiyear effort that eventually will examine each sport individually.

In part to allow the conferences and the committees working on issues like the student-athlete experience and football recruiting more time to craft proposals, the Council recommended that the Division I Board of Directors move the legislation sponsorship deadline from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1 for both Council and autonomy proposals. The revised deadline for autonomy conferences would be permanent, while the revised deadline for Council proposals is intended to be a one-year waiver. The deadline change recommendations came to the Council from a subgroup examining the effectiveness of the new governance structure, which has been in place for about a year.

The Council also endorsed creating a formal process for the Council to suggest legislative concepts to the autonomy conferences in the areas in which they have the authority to make rules. The Council also agreed that the comment and amendment period for legislation it votes on should be extended through February, to allow for feedback collected at the NCAA Convention to influence the rules-making process.

All four recommendations will be considered by the Board of Directors at its August meeting.