By Gary Brown
Division I conferences submitted 55 proposals for the 2011-12 legislative cycle, including one from the Southeastern Conference to regulate “oversigning” in football and another from the Colonial Athletic Association to allow football student-athletes five seasons of competition.
Division I is just one year into having established a limit of 28 prospects who can sign National Letters of Intent, but the SEC is proposing a reduction to 25 for the 2012 season.
Coaches are limited to 25 new scholarships per year anyway, but allowing 28 signees creates the oversigning concern the SEC is looking to mitigate.
The argument to support oversigning has been that prospects often sign a national letter and then don’t qualify academically or change their minds about attending the school. Either occurrence could leave a coach with a shortage of athletes. By signing extra prospects, a coach avoids being left short.
But if the anticipated attrition doesn’t occur, a coach can be left with more scholarship promises than actual scholarships. In those situations, a prospect can elect – or be persuaded – to delay enrollment until the spring (a practice known as “grayshirting”). The spring enrollees then take the place of any fall graduates from the team, take advantage of spring practice and begin the next fall already conditioned and prepared for the season. Often, the student-athletes will take part-time classes in the first fall to keep pace academically.
The SEC in its rationale statement says the proposal is intended to result in “an increased focus of recruiting activity on prospective student-athletes who possess the necessary athletic and academic credentials to successfully participate at the signing institution.”
The proposal also expands by two months the timeframe during which the signing of prospects will be governed, from Dec. 1 through May 1.
Meanwhile, the Colonial Athletic Association is looking to add a fifth season of eligibility in football, as long as two are spent with the certifying institution. The rule would apply throughout Division I football, at least upon initial consideration. However, as with any football legislation, the Football Bowl and Football Championship Subdivisions ultimately vote on it separately.
According to the conference, many schools extend a student-athlete’s scholarship beyond four years anyway because of redshirting, a missed season due to injuries or insufficient progress-toward-degree requirements. The league’s proposal “would allow participation during the entire period of the student-athlete’s financial aid, being more efficient for the institution and an extra incentive for the student-athlete.”
It resurrects an idea that has been often proposed but never ultimately supported. The Atlantic Coast Conference raised the concept in 2004 and obtained sponsorship through the Division I Football Issues Committee, but the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet didn’t support it. The ACC eventually withdrew it.
The Ohio Valley Conference tried it the next year with the same result.
The CAA in its rationale is making an academic appeal, pointing out that current progress-toward-degree requirements specify 80 percent of degree completion entering the fifth year, implying a four-plus year (nine semesters) academic program.
The league says, “For those student-athletes who complete their first four seasons but need another term to graduate, a fifth season would keep them fully engaged academically, athletically and socially throughout their collegiate career, from start to finish – an APR incentive.”
Among other proposals, the Big East Conference wants to amend legislation adopted in April requiring football players to complete nine credit hours during the fall term or else not be eligible for the first four games the following season. The Big East is proposing an exception for teams with an Academic Progress Rate of at least 965 on the first day of classes.
Other proposals include:
All of the proposals will be published in the NCAA Division I Publication of Proposed Legislation available on the NCAA website Aug. 15.
The cabinets in the governance substructure will review all proposals and offer comment this fall. The Division I Legislative Council will give the proposals initial consideration in January, at which time the Council can adopt a proposal and submit it for potential review by the Board of Directors; send it out for membership comment before second consideration in April; or defeat a proposal (though the Board does have the authority to resurrect defeated proposals).
The 55 proposals this year aren’t as many as in previous years (59 in 2010 and 64 in 2009), but still reflective of the annual push to tweak legislation – in some cases before the proposal being modified has had a chance to work.
The Legislative Council in fact is considering a two-year rules cycle (similar to the one adopted in the playing-rules structure in 2007) and an increase in the number of institutions required to both override and suspend legislation. The Board may submit proposals along those lines this year.
Under a two-year rules cycle, certain bylaws would be candidates for modification by both conferences and the governance structure one year, with the remainder tackled the following year. Legislation would still be sponsored and voted on each year, and both the Board and the Legislative Council would retain the authority to sponsor noncontroversial or emergency legislation in a bylaw’s “off” year in certain cases.
Council members believe that lengthening the rules cycle would force a more thoughtful and less reactive process. While some administrators indicated they were frustrated when playing-rules committees first adopted the two-year cycle, they said they learned to work within the system and develop more feasible alternatives in the intervening periods.