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Waiver process to be more flexible

Council gives NCAA staff ability to consider student-athletes’ personal circumstances when making decisions

A new process approved by the Division I membership last month will allow NCAA staff more flexibility when considering some student-athlete waiver applications.

The Division I Leadership Council decided to allow staff members to more heavily consider a student-athlete’s personal circumstances when making decisions, even if that means sometimes straying from member-defined guidelines and precedent. The process will be used only in specific situations, particularly when the outcome of a prescribed staff decision is likely to cause a strong negative impact on the student-athlete or is inconsistent with the intent of the rule.

“As a former chair of a subcommittee of the Initial Eligibility Waivers Committee, I would have welcomed this,” said Michael Bitter, a Leadership Council member and faculty athletics representative at Stetson University. “The committee looks at all the cases the staff approves and discusses (the decision). I am very supportive of this.”

The new flexibility for staff to make decisions with a “student-athlete first” mindset will be limited and temporary, members decided, putting a two-year sunset on the waiver review lens. Previously, staff was often required to apply guidelines from the membership with little room for weighing extenuating circumstances or deviating from the path outlined in the rules.

“It’s important to remember that this is a temporary process that members will regularly review, not a permanent change,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for Academic and Membership Affairs. “Any long-term rules or waiver process changes will be addressed through a new governance process and structure, whenever that is approved and implemented.

“If the staff makes decisions the members feel are too liberal, our committees and the Leadership Council will let us know.”

The process will not apply in all waiver review cases. For example, transfer cases will not fall into this category, nor will requests to regain a season of competition after losing one while currently competing for a school.

Some of the circumstances that will be subject to the new process include cases in which a prospective student-athlete participated in  limited or loosely organized competition, such as a rec league, or engaged in competition while serving in the military.

Staff sought the flexibility after receiving membership feedback on many cases over the last several months involving student-athletes who received penalties or suffered consequences that seemed too harsh for the violation.

The Board of Directors, which also discussed the process, assigned the two-year time limit and suggested the flexibility cease as soon as a new governance structure is in place and ready to consider rules changes that would make this temporary process unnecessary.