Last year, in response to ESPN the Magazine inexplicably publishing an issue about new rules that included not one NCAA regulation, I came up with six tweaks that would have an outsized impact on college athletics, one for each working bylaw in the NCAA Manual. ESPN’s gimmick is gone, but I kept it. This year I expanded it to seven rules, splitting Bylaw 15 (financial aid) and Bylaw 16 (awards and benefits) which were combined last year. So here is the Second Annual List of New Rules for the New Year.
Bylaw 11 (Athletics Personnel) – Dump the Test
The coaches recruiting certification exam is an annual rite of passage at NCAA institutions. The test used to be 40 questions over 80 minutes and was recently cut down to 30 questions over 60 minutes. It is open book (i.e. the NCAA Manual) and it includes mostly recruiting rules but sometimes rules about eligibility or financial aid as well. Coaches have to score an 80% on the exam. Fail to do so, and a coach may not recruit until he or she passes the exam, which they cannot do for another month.
But the most important function of the test is what surrounds it. Coaches gather for a rules review with the Compliance Office where they go over new legislation, get a refresher in the trickier recruiting rules, and have an opportunity to ask questions. It is that rules review which is more helpful than the actual test itself. The test just provides a convenient reason to get everyone in a room together.
If you read the certification requirement, the recruiting exam is just one required part of being certified to recruited off-campus. Instead, the education session (say four hours for coaches new to college athletics and two hours as continuing education) should be the greater emphasis. And if conferences or institutions wish to continue developing an exam, they can assume the expense to do so.
Bylaw 12 (Amateurism) – Competition with Professionals
Most people at this point are familiar with Proposal 2009–22, which permitted a prospect to compete on professional teams prior to his or her initial enrollment in college. But 2009–22 is just an exception to the more basic rule, that competition on a professional team ends an athlete’s collegiate eligibility. And the definition of a professional team remains very broad, covering any team where even one individual receives compensation above he or her expenses.
Competing with a professional team, at least during vacation periods outside of the traditional season, does not pass the litmus test for an amateurism rule. It does necessarily mean an athlete has received pay. And it is not strong enough evidence that a student-athlete has decided to leave college (unlike hiring an agent or skipping out on class to play on a pro team). Allowing competition with professional teams during the time when outside competition is currently allowed also allows better opportunities to be developed for current athletes (like an NBA college summer league for example).
Bylaw 13 (Recruiting) – Only Kids Get in Free
Much of the talk in recruiting regulation has been about relationships. Coaches need fewer recruiting regulations to build relationships with athletes that combat the influences of the dreaded “third party”. But Bylaw 13.8.1 promotes coaches developing relationships with these third parties by allowing high school coaches, AAU or 7-on–7 coaches, and junior college coaches to receive two free tickets to a regular season home game.
If relationships with prospects are the key to combating third party influence and cutting down on transfer rates, no one connected to a prospect should get a free ticket to a game without bringing the prospect. The regulations on official and/or unofficial visits could be loosened to give a prospect an extra ticket to bring a coach. But the recruiting regulations should allow the entertaining of people who have influence over a prospect if the prospect is nowhere to be found.
Bylaw 14 (Eligibility) – Degree Progress Get Out of Jail Free Card
Fulfilling progress towards degree rules requires a student-athlete keep up with three different regulations:
- A set of credit hour requirements each semester and academic year;
- A minimum cumulative GPA that typically escalates from a 1.8 to a 2.0; and
- A requirement that a certain percentage of a student-athlete’s degree be completed by certain points in his or her career.
The first and third requirements are typically duplicative. The six and 18 credits an athlete must earn each semester or academic year keeps them on track to meet the 40/60/80% degree requirements. Except when the percentage of degree gets out of line with the credit hour requirements, which happens when an athlete gets ahead. Then they might be unable to complete the credit hour requirements because they ran out of credits to take, requiring a waiver. Or the credit hour requirements keep them from exploring electives.
Completing a percentage of your degree is the more important rule, so it should trump the credit hour requirements. If an athlete is ahead by a certain percentage and meeting (or beating by some amount) the GPA requirement, they should be exempt from the credit hour requirement. This way student-athletes who went above and beyond early in their academic careers gain more freedom to take what they want later on.
Bylaw 15 (Financial Aid) – End the Recruited/Not Recruited Distinction
Recruiting is a funny word. It has a formal definition that sounds exactly like what you expect a definition to sound like in a legal code:
Recruiting is any solicitation of a prospective student-athlete or a prospective student-athlete’s relatives (or legal guardians) by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing the prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.
But for practical purposes, that definition is trumped by three other, more technical requirements. There is the definition of a recruited prospect in Bylaw 13. There is the definition of a recruited prospect for men’s basketball camp purposes. And there is the definition a recruited prospect in Bylaw 15. That status attaches when ever a school:
- Provides an official visit to a prospect;
- Has in-person, off-campus contact with a prospect; or
- Makes a written offer of financial aid to a prospect.
Once a prospect becomes recruited, how they count in financial aid limits changes. For example, if they are a football or basketball player, they may not receive any institutional financial aid without counting against the team’s limits. However, a coach can evaluate a prospect numerous times, call them as much as the rules allow, and offer them free tickets to any home event on an unlimited number of unofficial visits. Those activities would definitely meet the NCAA’s more fundamental definition.
If the distinction is meaningful, the technical definitions of a recruited student-athlete need to match the NCAA’s core definition. That would mean a definition that looks like the men’s basketball camp definition, which means an athlete would need to show up on campus with essentially no prior contact with the athletics department. And if the distinction is not meaningful anymore, it should be removed in favor of a rule which more precisely addresses using the financial aid office to get around scholarship limits.
Bylaw 16 (Awards and Benefits) – Let Student-Athletes Catch a Game
When athletes are on the road or required to stay over a break, schools are allowed to keep them occupied. Entertainment is allowed during both road trips and vacation breaks during the season. There is one meaningful difference though: during a vacation break, that entertainment cannot be tickets to a professional sports contest. That means no NBA games for athletes during winter break, or no baseball games for baseball players after school gets out in the summer.
There are already enough controls on entertainment generally (within a certain distance) and controls on professional sports tickets during road games (must come from the institution) to prevent it from being abused during these relatively short times when athletes are stuck on an empty campus. And while it is an advantage to schools near professional teams, the fact that tickets cannot be used in the recruiting process or given during the academic year limits that advantage.
Bylaw 17 (Playing and Practice Seasons) – Basketball Alumni Games
In sports other than football and basketball, alumni contests are a common occurrence. They typically occur during the exhibition season (like during fall baseball) or as a preseason meet before the championship season starts. They are exempt from the limit on the total number of games, and the NCAA recently began allowing athletes to participate in an alumni game and still redshirt that year.
Basketball’s preseason is a bit of a mess right now. One problem was well known: the strict limits on which athletes could play in exhibition games and still redshirt. Another did not pop up until this year as a result of the NBA lockout. NBA players wanted to workout with their old college teams and even play against them, but the NCAA does not exempt alumni games in basketball from the maximum number of competitions or first permissible start date like exhibitions against lower division opponents or closed-door scrimmages.
A framework is there though. Basketball teams get two games that do not count between the first day of practice and the first real game. What those two games can be should expand and whether they count as using a season of competition should be simplified. But an excellent start would be to allow schools that have alumni willing to suit up to use an alumni game as one of their two exhibitions.