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Rules for a Reason

System is complex and heavily layered, but thought out

Brian Hendrickson

Over a quiet breakfast with everything you’d expect — and want — in a visit to the South, full of biscuits and sausage and butter, the concerns voiced by the coach sounded dire.

“I really hope they don’t pass that transfer rule,” he told me in September. “It’ll be terrible.”

He calmly listed the reasons for his concerns about the proposals the Division I Transfer Working Group is considering, including one that would allow all transfers who meet academic requirements to be immediately eligible at their new school rather than sit out a year. Would it create a one-and-done environment for smaller schools, whose top athletes could more easily transfer to bigger Division I programs? Would it exacerbate the distance between the division’s more elite programs and the Cinderellas of March? Would it magnify concerns that the fulcrum between athletics and academics has shifted?

They were all valid concerns. In fact, it’s exactly the type of feedback the working group was seeking when it announced in early September that it was sending a survey to NCAA members to get their feedback on the concepts.

There was just one issue: There wasn’t a proposal. It wasn’t close to a vote. In fact, it was far from a done deal.

But such misunderstandings are common.

The NCAA’s system is complex and layered. Even inside the national office, it can be tough to keep the committees and lines on the organizational chart straight. In fact, when Champion set out to map the Association’s governance structure two years ago, “How the NCAA Works” became one of the most popular and reproduced features in our 10-year history. And it was easy to understand why.

People want to understand.

Because when opinions start flying, grasping where things are going becomes disorienting. In this case, the working group planned to use the survey feedback to inform any recommendations it would make. But it doesn’t have the power to actually change the rule. Neither can the Division I Committee on Academics, which currently is examining what an appropriate academic benchmark would be for immediate eligibility after transfer. The Division I Council, which is awaiting recommendations from those groups, is the only governance body that can introduce that legislation. And its decision still could be struck down by the Division I Board of Directors.

You got that?

It’s OK to admit you don’t.

The fact is, you have to excuse a little confusion in a complex organization. There are no quick solutions. Everything is heavily vetted, advanced to higher-level groups, studied, and then decided upon by even higher-level committees. The Transfer Working Group’s survey was merely one step on that journey, and it got what it wanted — plenty of feedback, though some came in the form of scores of media reports that quoted college coaches in stories that made the decision sound imminent.

The reality: These ideas may never make it to the proposal stage. Even if they do, they may change form significantly. Everyone is going to get confused, at times, trying to track how it happens.

The process is, in fact, well thought out and deliberate — even if we need to work to understand it.


About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.