After nearly two years of discussion and debate, the first two legislative proposals from the Recruiting Working Group have been endorsed by the Division III Management Council – and more could be on the horizon.
At its April 14-15 meeting in Indianapolis, the council voted in support of allowing coaches to contact prospective student-athletes on each day of competition rather than only at the end of events (e.g. tournaments or camps) and to allow coaches to contact potential student-athletes off campus after they’ve completed their sophomore year of high school. (Currently, coaches must wait until after a student’s junior year.) This week, the Division III Presidents Council will have an opportunity to endorse the legislation and determine whether both items will be voted on at the 2015 NCAA Convention.
The Management Council endorsed both pieces of legislation because of strong support voiced in a 2013 survey and at the Division III Issues Form at the 2014 NCAA Convention. There, 71 percent of Division III members indicated they wanted contact on each day of competition to be developed into legislation. The rule would provide coaches scheduling flexibility when attending events off campus, no longer forcing them to wait several days until the event is over to talk to potential recruits.
During roundtable discussions at the issues forum, 57 percent of members indicated that allowing earlier off-campus contact with recruits would benefit the recruiting process as a whole. Council members agreed, noting that coaches would be able to talk to a wider pool of student-athletes – both juniors and seniors – without having to spend more time on the road or make more visits. It would also allow coaches to keep pace with their counterparts in Division II and the NAIA, council members noted.
More recruiting legislation could be on the horizon. The working group plans to draft legislation at a meeting in late May that would permit on-campus evaluations. In a straw poll at the issues forum, 52 percent of respondents indicated they thought the rule would make recruiting better for Division III; 84 percent wanted the group to move forward with legislation.
Division III Budget
The council voted to suspend implementation of championships per diem increases slated for 2014-15 that will save an estimated $1.2 million annually. The Championships Committee made the initial recommendations, which are the first steps in an evolving plan to balance the budget.
In a related discussion, the council voted to increase the bracket size for men’s lacrosse from 30 to 32 teams and to increase the women’s bracket from 36 to 38 teams, per the Division III Championships Committee’s recommendation. The expansion carries a roughly $26,000 price tag and several council members wondered why the division should take on additional costs as it strains to combat rising budget deficits. The measure ultimately passed, though, because the council decided to accept the small short-term expansion while sport committees, the Championships Committee and the Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee iron out major budget changes over the next several years.
Prohibiting athletic scholarships makes Division III unique from its counterparts, but also presents unique challenges. By rule, student-athletes at Division III schools are supposed to receive financial aid that is indistinguishable from aid given to non-athletes with similar academic and financial need profiles. Otherwise, financial aid might be used as a de facto athletic scholarship. But finding ways to educate the membership, ensure compliance with that rule and dole out appropriate sanctions have proven a demanding responsibility for committees, NCAA staff and member schools alike. The council tackled those issues in its spring meeting.
Earlier this year, the Division III Financial Aid Committee recommended that the council endorse a system where up to 10 institutions are selected at random every year to undergo a financial aid audit, ensuring that aid given to student-athletes mirrors that given to non-athletes. Currently, schools’ financial aid packages are only reviewed if their self-reported financial aid data surpasses certain triggers. About 50 percent of Division III institutions have triggered a review through the nine years the system has been in place; in the proposal, the schools selected at random would be pulled from the pool of institutions that have yet to be reviewed by the Financial Aid Committee.
Through the course of those nine years, many violations at schools under review have been found in areas other than what initially triggered the review. Given that, the committee felt many other violations could be going unnoticed at schools that have yet to trigger a review. Random audits, the committee argued, would be a better way to ensure education and compliance.
The council, however, felt that random reviews could be overly burdensome to schools that have not triggered a review. A financial aid audit would take time and money that some schools may not have, the council argued. Why place an undue burden on schools, selected at random, who appear to be operating within the parameters of the Financial Aid process? So the council referred the recommendation back to the committee, suggesting it revise the recommendation to ensure it maximizes efficiency and minimizes burden.
“If you’re doing it right, and have done it right, should you be subjected then to a random audit that takes personnel time?” asked Division III Management Council Chair and Director of Athletics at Wilmington College, Terry Rupert. “At small schools, that’s going to be a demand of time and personnel and possibly money on the institution, so there’s a bit of an aversion to do that when they haven’t triggered anything.”
The council also discussed changing the penalty structure for financial aid violations. Should the division adopt a tiered model of sanctioning schools, which would include consideration of key factors like intent, rather than the two-tiered “major” and “secondary” model already in place? The council asked the Committee on Infractions and the Financial Aid Committee to explore this as well.
“The financial aid process needs to be tweaked,” Rupert said. “I think we recognize that. I do think there might be a middle ground here where we need to look at how we enforce moving forward.”
The ongoing conversations surrounding preseason scouting may have finally ended at the council meeting. At January’s NCAA Convention, the membership passed legislation banning all preseason scouting, but several delegates on the convention floor vocalized opposition, asking that the rule be amended to allow a one game exception. In several states, popular preseason games pitting Division III teams against Division I or II teams are played annually and coaches want to be able to attend.
Last fall, before the legislation was adopted, the Division III Interpretations and Legislation Committee proposed an amendment that would allow coaches to attend one preseason game against a non-Division III opponent. Management Council, though, voted it down. Given the vocal opposition at Convention, the committee felt it was appropriate to once again put the recommendation forward. And, once again, the council shot the measure down this week, claiming it would undermine the intent of the new scouting ban on all preseason scrimmages and exhibitions.