A school may apply for a waiver on behalf of a college athlete when extenuating or extraordinary circumstances are present.
NCAA national office staff has authority to grant waivers using established standards and guidelines, and when schools or conferences disagree with a staff decision, they can appeal the decision to a member committee.
The average time to decide a legislative relief waiver is 21 business days, but the time required varies depending on the details and complexity of each case. Urgent waivers are processed within five days.
The waiver process was created in 1993 after member schools expressed a desire for more flexibility in how rules are applied.
Sometimes, waivers just make sense. In fall 2014, Mount St. Joseph University received a waiver to move up its women’s basketball season opener so freshman Lauren Hill, who had terminal brain cancer, could compete in a college game. Just this year, the University of Kentucky received a waiver that allowed high school swimmer Madison Winstead to compete in a scrimmage before enrolling at the school so her mother, who had cancer, could see her take part in a collegiate event.
But not all waiver cases are easy. Applications may be denied if they would give a school a recruiting or competitive advantage, or if the circumstances that led to the request were within the control of the school, student or coach. Often privacy laws prohibit the NCAA from making public all facts of a case, such as instances involving mental health or medical records.
As long as member schools continue to believe that not all rules can apply in every circumstance, some situations will continue to call for a waiver.
Incoming Division I college athletes must earn a 2.3 GPA in 16 core high school courses (English, math, science and social studies) in order to compete in sports their first year of college. Beginning Aug. 1, 2018, a 2.2 GPA in core classes will be required for incoming Division II student-athletes.
In search of the right spot to draw the academic line, Division I administrators, student-athletes and faculty members examined the question for more than a year. They weighed many issues: Could raising the GPA requirement lead prospective college athletes to take high school more seriously and be more prepared for college? How would such a standard impact segments of society already battling limited access to higher education? The Division I Board of Directors settled on the standard because students coming into college with a high school GPA below 2.3 in specific academic courses were among the least likely to succeed academically in college.
If student-athletes are to be students first, high school GPAs in specific academic classes are the best predictor of future academic success in college.
Academic standards for both incoming and continuing students are reviewed regularly in Divisions I and II, the only divisions that can award athletics scholarships. The 2.3 GPA is a new standard – students entering college this fall are the first to face the requirement – and the 2.2 GPA standard will be new for Division II in 2018. The divisions will review the impact of the new rule and potential unintended consequences, considering those when making future recommendations for academic standards.
Coaches in Divisions I and II cannot contact prospective student-athletes off-campus or allow a student to visit a school’s campus during the “dead period” of a recruiting calendar. Those coaches are allowed to have written or phone contact with recruits during this period, however. Division III does not have dead periods or a recruiting calendar.
NCAA members try to strike a balance between unreasonable intrusions on the lives of prospective college athletes and the opportunity for coaches to develop relationships and make sound recruiting decisions. They also try to help coaches find a balance between their work and life demands. As member schools began to examine the recruiting process, they determined a dead period in the recruiting calendar was appropriate, and a variation of this rule was first adopted in 1994.
Several sports have recruiting calendars, and each has a different dead period at a different time for a different reason; however, it generally comes down to allowing both prospects and coaches to have time away from in-person contacts. There are standard dead periods for a few days surrounding the opening of the National Letter of Intent signing periods, so coaches do not put in-person pressure on students at that time.
NCAA member committees regularly revisit recruiting rules to evaluate whether current rules are enforceable, relevant with current technology and in the best interests of prospective student-athletes.
In most sports in Divisions I and II, coaches can begin placing phone calls and sending correspondence, including electronic correspondence, to prospective college athletes Sept. 1 of the junior year of high school. In-person contacts can begin on a specific date in the summer between junior and senior year. There are significant exceptions in a handful of sports, such as men’s and women’s basketball and men’s ice hockey, and there are no limitations on the timing of phone calls and electronic correspondence in Division III.
NCAA members understand the need for coaches to develop relationships with prospects during the recruiting process but want to ensure recruits have a normal high school experience and fully explore their college options as students first. As a result, members elected to place restrictions on how early coaches can contact prospective student-athletes, defining such recruiting timelines for the first time in 1991.
By limiting the amount of time that coaches can recruit, the NCAA hopes prospective college athletes can live more balanced, normal lives in high school without being continuously bombarded by recruiting pitches from colleges around the country.
The Division I Student-Athlete Experience Committee is reviewing proposals from the lacrosse community to address early recruiting issues. Committees made up of representatives from member schools regularly revisit recruiting rules to evaluate whether current rules are enforceable, relevant with current technology and in the best interests of prospects.
In short, it’s because it’s what a panel of coaches and other experts decided was the best for the college game. The playing rules for the 24 sports the NCAA offers are decided through a series of committees made up of current college coaches and athletics administrators. Rules for some sports, such as golf, fencing and gymnastics, rely on the rules of international or national governing bodies with a few NCAA modifications. But for the others, committees for each particular sport oversee the rules and recommend changes. The Playing Rules Oversight Panel – made up of athletics administrators and other representatives from all divisions – gives the final approval on those changes.
Playing rules are the same across all divisions, except in cases in which some schools need additional time to implement a costly piece of technology involved in the rule change.
When considering a rules change, playing rules committees typically survey college coaches for feedback and also consult with officials associations to see which calls are most difficult to make and how adjustments could make their jobs easier. Because coaches or others with hands-on knowledge of a particular sport are the ones making the decisions, sometimes playing rules committees can be active affairs. Members of the Wrestling Rules Committee, for instance, have been known to take to their feet to demonstrate a certain hold they were reviewing.
Having a body that defines playing rules all schools must follow is one of the foundational reasons colleges and universities choose to be part of the NCAA.
Advancements in technology and feedback about the current state of play continually lead to adjustments in how college games are played. To provide stability, rules can be altered only every two years except in cases of athlete safety, financial impact or situations involving the integrity of the game.
The NCAA bans eight different classes of drugs, from stimulants to diuretics to street drugs. Testing takes place at NCAA championships, plus year-round on campus in Divisions I and II. The penalty for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug: one full year of lost eligibility for the first offense. All remaining eligibility is lost with a second positive test.
For street drugs such as marijuana and heroin, where intervention and counseling are considered more important than penalizing the user, a student-athlete must sit out a half-season of competition. A second positive test for a street drug results in the loss of a year of eligibility and withholding from participation for 365 days from the test.
The NCAA first tested for drugs in November 1986 at the Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships in Tucson, Arizona. Championships testing gradually expanded to include year-round testing on Divisions I and II campuses, often as a supplement to an athletics department’s own drug-testing program.
Through the National Center for Drug Free Sport, the NCAA tests for drugs for a number of reasons. First, drug use can threaten the goal of protecting college athletes’ health and safety, one of the tenets that led to the Association’s creation more than 100 years ago. Performance-enhancing drugs also jeopardize the integrity of the competitions themselves, allowing one athlete an unfair advantage over another. The testing program is one part of an NCAA drug-use deterrence program, which also includes an education program that teaches college athletes about both the health consequences of drugs and what happens when they break the rules.
In recent years, NCAA member committees have reconsidered the Association’s role in monitoring street drugs such as marijuana and heroin. Based on the recommendations of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, which oversees the drug-testing program and is made up of physicians, a sports psychologist, athletic trainer and other experts, the three divisions recently reduced the penalty for a positive street drug test from one year of eligibility to half a season. The reason: Data showed losing a year of eligibility led many of the offending students to drop out of school. The committee continues to examine recreational drug use policies and will consider future recommendations in this area.
While there are exceptions typically tied to academics, a student who transfers from one four-year college to another is generally required to complete one full academic year of residence before being eligible to compete for the new school.
The transfer residence rule is in the first NCAA manual and was originally tied with freshman ineligibility, a rule that was eliminated in 1972.
Requiring college athletes to sit out competition for a year after transferring encourages them to make decisions motivated by academics as well as athletics. Most student-athletes who are not eligible to compete immediately benefit from a year to adjust to their new school and focus on classes. Transferring schools has a profound impact on the academic achievement of all students, not just college athletes.
Divisions I and II transfer rules and policies will be reviewed by the Division I Council and the Division II Academic Requirements Committee throughout the next year.
There are four policies that affect the ability of schools to host national championships:
In 2001, the NCAA’s top governing body, then called the Executive Committee, adopted a policy to prevent states flying the Confederate flag on statehouse grounds from hosting NCAA championship events. The Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee reviewed that policy and upheld it in 2007, affirming that the rule was appropriate and applied to predetermined sites, but because the prominence of the flag on state grounds was outside schools’ control, schools could host championships that were not predetermined.
In 2005, the NCAA Executive Committee declared that schools whose mascots are considered abusive or offensive – particularly Native American mascots, or other racial/ethnic/national origins mascots – are not able to host NCAA championships, and are also not able to compete in NCAA championships unless they remove references to hostile or abusive mascots from uniforms and paraphernalia. The committee did allow exceptions for schools who obtain support of the mascot from local Native American communities.
In 2009, the NCAA Executive Committee adopted a policy prohibiting sessions of NCAA championships in some states with legal wagering. The policy applies to states that allow single-game betting on sports in which the NCAA conducts championships.
In April of this year, the top governing body (now called the NCAA Board of Governors) also passed an anti-discrimination process for championships bids. Sites hosting or bidding to host championship events will be required to demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination, plus one that safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event. The board’s decision followed the recent actions of legislatures in several states, which have passed laws allowing residents to refuse to provide services to some people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
For many student-athletes, a championship event is something they’ve dreamed of competing in for their entire lives, and the NCAA wants to ensure every college athlete in a championship event has the opportunity to compete in a safe and positive environment.
As with the Confederate flag policy review in 2007, member schools will continue to monitor issues relating to inclusion, diversity and student-athlete well-being. Existing policies are re-evaluated when needed.