With NCAA proposals, the law of unintended consequences is always at play. For example, if you toughen academic standards, there’s always the possibility that rather than more studying and better academic support, you get more academic fraud. Deregulate behavior that seems fairly uncommon and you might end up with more of it than you bargained for.
When three NCAA proposals with seemingly different objectives happen to be pointing at the same spot, the effect is magnified. And when they are all passed and become effective at the same time, the ripples can continue for quite a while. That’s what could happen with three pieces of football legislation that was proposed this year. To understand the combined effect, you must understand each proposal.
(Note: At the time of this writing, no formal announcement has been made regarding whether Proposal 2010-52 had been passed. Proposal 2010-78 was passed in January and 2010-59-C is awaiting board approval.)
Proposal 2010-52 is another attempt to codify a transfer exception for graduate students in football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey. The previous attempt, Proposal 2005-54, lived a brief but exciting life in 2006-2007 before falling to an override vote. The intent of 2005-54 was revived as a waiver process shortly there after. Under the proposal, a student-athlete in these sports can transfer and be immediately eligible for competition without seeking a waiver if:
- The student-athlete has not previously
- He/she graduates from the first institution;
- He/she enrolls in a graduate program not offered at the first institution;
- His/her athletic scholarship is not renewed for the following year; and
- The first institution does not object to allowing the student-athlete to compete immediately.
The intended result is that if a student-athlete has graduated and is no longer wanted on the team, they will be able to play immediately. The student-athlete will need to get permission to play immediately elsewhere, much as they need to get permission to contact other schools when transferring already. The unintended result is that any student-athlete who graduates could potentially negotiate a free transfer by having the institution nonrenew his or her scholarship.
Proposal 2010-59-C was designed to improve football’s APR scores and graduation rates by requiring football student-athletes to earn 9 credits (8 for quarter schools) in the fall term. This is up from the usual 6-credit hour requirement. If a student-athlete fails to earn 9 credits, he will be ineligible for the first four contests the following year. If the student-athlete then earns 27 credits (40 at quarter schools) by the start of the following fall, he is only ineligible for the first two contests. And once during his career, a student-athlete can use the new 27 credit exception to regain eligibility for all contests.
This is intended to get student-athletes started on the right foot each year. By earning 9 credits during the fall, the hope is that football student-athletes are not scrapping by during the spring and summer to stay eligible. A higher credit hour requirement in the fall is also designed to put more student-athletes on a 3.5 year graduation track, so football student-athletes have their degree in hand when their eligibility is up.
If a football team has used all 85 scholarships for the year, it is allowed to replace a student-athlete who graduates or has already graduated and finishes his eligibility in the middle of the year with an incoming prospect (or walk-on who earns a scholarship). Previously, that student-athlete had to count against the limit of 25 initial counters in the following academic year. Proposal 2010-78 now gives a school the option to count against the current year’s limit if the institution has not yet used all 25 initial counters.
This allows institutions to maximize financial aid provided to football student-athletes. Now the incoming recruiting class does not “block” an institution from using midyear replacements on walk-ons and early enrollees, provided the institution has not used all its initial counters for that year.
All Together Now
Proposal 2010-59-C is intended to lead to more football student-athletes graduating in 3 or 3.5 years. Proposal 2010-52 allows student-athletes in football who graduated increased opportunities to transfer and play immediately. And Proposal 2010-78 increases the ability to use initial counters while rewarding institutions more for graduating football student-athletes.
The end result could be increased transfer movement in football. If the higher academic standards really take hold, it may become the norm for football student-athletes to graduate in 3-3.5 years. That means more student-athletes eligible to transfer and play immediately, and more student-athletes eligible to be replaced at the midyear with incoming prospects. That could mean a lively market for experienced student-athletes with one or two years of eligibility left who are no longer in the plans for their current football program.
Call it a kindler, gentler version of oversigning since these student-athletes will have degrees and the opportunity to play somewhere else. Call it a retention non-crisis since they will have earned full APR points by graduating and improve the APR scores of the new school as well.
It’s a debate that if it arises will be more about sports than education. How important is the opportunity to participate on the team you selected if the school has already paid for a degree? Do we want to avoid expanded free agency and player movement in college sports if there isn’t an academic casualty as well?
All these rules are generally considered “good” by themselves. Few would argue with increased academic standards. Fewer still would object to maximizing financial aid to football student-athletes and rewarding graduation. And only a tiny minority would not want expanded opportunities for student-athletes who will not be receiving a scholarship next year.
But it’s at the intersection of these rules that we may see an unintended consequence that has much less support than any of the three proposal do individually. And as the Division I membership contemplates changes to the legislative process, it’s unintended consequences and the interaction between rules that must be monitored carefully no matter what the process eventually looks like.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.