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Division II Legislation Committee reviews unattached competition, financial aid

The committee also issued a clarification on promotional activities legislation

Recurring questions about a Division II bylaw has sparked a review of the regulations for athletes competing “unattached” in individual sports.  

The bylaw, which permits athletes to compete as individuals during the academic year independent of their team, has been a sticking point in the division over the last decade. Division II governing bodies have considered changes in prior years but never formally pursued legislation.

During its meeting in Indianapolis last week, after hearing new concerns from conferences and coaches, the Division II Legislation Committee decided to revisit the issue. Since August 2013, NCAA staff has received more than 50 requests for clarification on the bylaw, with 27 of those coming during the first half of the 2014-15 academic year.

Unattached competition is most common in wrestling, swimming, track and field and cross country. Currently, Division II athletes can represent themselves rather than their team in competition as long as they follow certain regulations: they must pay their own way, can’t work with a coach in association with the event and can’t wear their team uniform. This includes student-athletes who are redshirting or who are ineligible for the season, giving them an opportunity to compete without having it count as one of their four seasons of competition.

Similar legislation exists in Division I, and the Division II Legislation Committee acknowledged that unattached competition has become an expected component of many individual sports. However, members of the Division II committee expressed concerns about individual sport athletes receiving opportunities to compete that aren’t afforded to team sport athletes. In addition, they agreed that the lines separating permissible and impermissible interactions between unattached athletes, their coaches and their teammates are often blurred and difficult to monitor.

“The culture of the sports that have the ability to use unattached athletes may be hard to restrict or change,” said Ann Traphagen, chair of the legislation committee and the assistant athletics director at Augustana College. “But we don’t want to provide those athletes advantages other athletes may not have. We feel this needs to be a full review.”

To kick off the discussion, the legislation committee created a list of potential changes, such as prohibiting ineligible student-athletes from competing unattached and prohibiting unattached athletes from participating in the same competitions as their teams. The Division II Management Council will consider the concepts during its April meeting and will provide feedback.

The legislation committee will also request feedback from other Division II groups including: the Presidents Council; the Championships Committee; the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; the Conference Commissioners Association; the Collegiate Commissioners Association Compliance Administrators; the Athletics Directors Association; the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association; and sports committees. It will decide whether to recommend a legislative proposal after reviewing that feedback.

Financial aid review

Also at its March meeting, the legislation committee continued its ongoing review of Division II financial aid legislation, a process that began in November 2013 due to a need to clarify the financial aid bylaws and ease the monitoring burden on administrators.

As requested by the committee, NCAA national office staff presented data to the group that showed how Division II schools are awarding financial aid, including the amount of Division II student-athletes who are receiving athletics aid (63 percent); the amount of teams that are using all of their equivalencies  (less than 15 percent); and the percent of athletics aid awards that are for the full year (more than 80 percent) rather than term-by-term. 

Armed with that knowledge, the committee drafted a list of concepts for groups to review, which will include the Management Council and Presidents Council. The discussion ranged from eliminating the opportunity to provide term-by-term scholarships to exploring the permission of multiyear scholarships, as well as only counting athletics aid toward individual and team limits.

“Simplification is our number one priority,” Traphagen said. “The second part is to encompass all types of institutions – private and public – in the awarding of aid and keep a level playing field. The numbers we received at this meeting really shed light on the directions we can go.”

Promotional activities

The legislation committee issued a clarification for the regulations around student-athlete participation in promotional activities.

Currently, athletes can take part in promotional events organized by charitable, educational or nonprofit agencies as long as certain requirements are met. One of those requirements is for the student-athlete and a representative from the organization to sign a release form stating the athlete’s name, image or appearance will be used only in ways permitted by Division II legislation. The committee discussed ways to satisfy the signature requirement while also easing some administrative burden on athletics staff.

The committee determined that a signed release will only be required for promotional events organized through athletics departments. Additionally, institutional administrators, student-athletes and the outside agencies with which they interact will only need to sign a release form once per year.