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NCAA Rules Working Group Process Undergoes Overhaul

Despite the ongoing governance review and the rising objections to presidential control, one of the outcomes of 2011’s Presidential Retreat continues on. The Rules Working Group’s review of the Division I NCAA Manual is chugging along, despite the fits and starts and the slower than expected progress. But now it looks like the NCAA has learned some lessons from the first two years of the deregulation effort and has made some significant changes to how these proposals will be adopted.

It appears the Rules Working Group, at least under that name, will take a backseat at least this year to an ad-hoc group of athletics administrators who met in August:

Late last month, a group of athletics directors, senior woman administrators and compliance practitioners representing all subdivisions of Division I gathered in Indianapolis to take the next step toward shaping the next phase of rules reform. The approach was a new one intended to bring together those who think about the rules on a high level and those who must apply them daily.

Notably absent from that list are university presidents who were driving the original working group and any representation for coaches. This is a much more traditional group of individuals involved in NCAA legislation.

Also more traditional will be the process used to adopt any new proposals this group came up with. Instead of going straight to the Board of Directors, the proposals will first have to be sponsored and/or adopted by the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council is both larger, including all 31 Division I conferences, and is composed of athletics administrators (mostly compliance professionals and faculty athletics representatives) rather than university presidents.

This should quell some of the issues that came up during the first round of Rules Working Group proposals, where there were widespread feelings of not being represented in the conversation. Now athletics administrators have a larger role in both developing and adopting the proposals. And all of the proposals will pass through a group that includes a representative from every Division I conference. Perhaps the theory is that greater buy-in from athletics administrators will fend off some of the opposition from coaches who feel they were not represented.

As far as the actual ideas, it appears many of the bigger ideas, like say cost-of-attendance scholarships, were not advanced by this group because of the governance review. But some of the ideas that did come out are very significant:

–   Definition of a countable coach: The current definition exists more as a negative, as in countable coaches are the ones allowed to do all the things that other categories are restricted from doing. This is being done with the aim of tackling the number and roles of noncoaching staff.

–   Allow unlimited meal plans: Currently student-athletes are limited to meal plans that provide three meals per day, even if the school offers a bigger one. This would essentially be a version of unlimited food for athletes, but would roll it into the scholarship.

–   Allow schools to provide meals in conjunction with practice and other events: This could be seen as a companion to the unlimited meal plan proposal, covering athletes who are not on board scholarship, or as a potential alternative if schools can stretch this into virtually unlimited food.

–   Allowing schools to provide unlimited snacks: An outgrowth of the infamous “fruits, nuts, and bagels” rule, this is another way to get more food for athletes without deregulating entirey. But it will be an interprative nightname trying to define what constitutes a “snack”.

–   Allowing schools to pay more student fees: Institutions may only pay mandatory fees at the moment. This proposal would expand that to include optional fees and depending on the wording might allow things like institutions buying scholarship athletes parking passes.

The two other proposals listed are technical issues that have no effect on the daily workings of an athletic department other than how much paperwork has to be completed and how many signatures some of it requires.

The reaction to the proposals in this next round of deregulation will be interesting. The only items that were advanced allegedly had widespread support, but there will be opposition to some of these proposals. The strength of that opposition could be an early indicator of the opposition to the bigger proposals that were tabled as well as the governance changes themselves.

If these proposals cannot get done, the NCAA legislative process would go from dysfunctional to completely nonfunctional. Every change, no matter how small, would have to be tabled until governance reform is completed and the fights are over about the issues that prompted it, namely a stipend or cost-of-attendance scholarships. That would delay significant changes like transfer reform and recruiting deregulation to 2015 at the earliest.

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