In theory, we should be exactly two weeks from a fairly momentous day in NCAA history. In 2011, after the Presidential Retreat, the Rules Working Group began their task of slimming down the NCAA Division I Manual. That effort finally bore some fruit in January 2012, when 25 deregulation proposals were adopted. But, again in theory, those were not expected to be very controversial. Even after the fights over stipends and multiyear scholarships, getting coaches and compliance offices out of the business of logging phone calls and checking the size of notecards seemed like something everyone could get behind.
August 15, 2013 was supposed to be when the fight started. That’s when Phase II of the Rules Working Group recommendations were supposed to be published for voting in January 2014. Phase I was pain points; Phase II was the brass tacks. Possible Phase II topics included unlimited meals, full on-campus tryouts, major deregulation of official visits, and mostly tweaks but some potentially big changes to the playing and practice rules.
But two things happened over the last year or so that have altered these possibilities. First was that the changes in Phase I of the RWG reforms were a lot more controversial than expected. And second, that controversy combined with the failure to pass a stipend or full cost-of-attendance scholarships has lead the largest conferences to call for a rethinking of Division I’s basic composition and governance.
Assuming we still get a Phase II at all, it could go one of two directions. We may still get much of what was planned. That would include a proposal that expands training table meals, deregulation around official visits, and change to Bylaw 17’s practice and competition rules. Or we could see a less ambitious agenda, with many of the more controversial ideas removed. Either way, past proposals that still need work like recruiting communication and printed recruiting materials may make a reappearance.
The broad thrust of Phase II of the RWG project seems to rest on what the group sees as the likely outcome of the broader governance debate and what the RWG’s response should be. Does the Rules Working Group feel a responsibility to try and show that Division I can work as is? Or do they take a backseat, even start winding down, as an inevitable new division or subdivision arises to take on the job of rewriting the rule book?
Either way, we will still be left with a sense of what could have been. Had a stipend and recruiting deregulation gone more smoothly, perhaps Phase II would have been even more ambitious. Even as recently as last January, Phase II included major financial aid changes, which have since been pushed back to a Phase III at the earliest. That phase faces an even more fundamental question: while there even be a Division I left to reform in two years time?