The NCAA’s rules on outside competition are old enough that it is hard to go back and find their origin. The current version of Bylaw 14.7.1, which bans outside competition by student-athletes subject to the exceptions in the rest of the bylaw, was adopted in 1991, and revised three times since then. The last revision, in 2005, softened the penalty from a presumption of being ineligible for at least a full season to simply requiring reinstatement. But the rules themselves reveal the intent. Competition on outside teams is prohibited during the academic year. That makes sense for academic reasons. In most sports, the NCAA allows for outside competition to occur outside the playing season during summer vacation or other official holiday breaks. During those times, the NCAA limits how many athletes from one institution can be on a team and prohibits coaches from coaching their own athlet es on outside teams. This prevents club teams from simply extending the collegiate season. The outside competition bylaws are not without their major issues, chiefly the difference between individual and team sports. Individual athletes are permitted to compete in outside events representing themselves. They can even compete in open events that involve collegiate teams and still redshirt, so long as they are not competing as members of the college team. Only wrestling has any sort of limit, prohibiting outside competition between the start of the academic year and November 1. The most visible issue with the outside competition rule happens in basketball. Basketball student-athletes may participate in outside competition during the summer. But they do so under a set of restrictive conditions. Basketball student-athletes may only play on one team in one league during the summer and the league must be certified by the NCAA. Basketball leagues must meet a number of conditions to be certified, including:
- No paying any players;
- No postseason or all-star competition; and
- No charging for admission, parking, raffles, or broadcast rights.
- Players may also only participate in leagues within 100 miles of their home or their institution.
This leads to the annual ritual of seeing both men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes suspended for violating these rules. The most common violations involve playing on two teams, playing for the wrong team or in the wrong league, or playing in a league that was not certified by the NCAA. The intent seems to be to prevent the rise of commercialized summer basketball leagues involving student-athletes. The supporter of the collegiate amateur model sees the NCAA protecting basketball student-athletes from possible exploitation. The critic sees the strict outside competition regulations for the NCAA’s major revenue sport as entrenching the NCAA monopoly. The lack of restrictions in other sports gives fuel to those critics. Highly competitive commercial summer baseball leagues like the Cape Cod League are nationally recognized. Men’s soccer players play in the Premier Development League or PDL, not just in front of paying customers but against professional athletes in many cases. And although no organized summer football has arisen, no NCAA rule prohibits the rise of summer 7-on–7 leagues. Beyond the inconsistencies with other sports, other rules have made the NCAA’s summer basketball certification program obsolete. Back in 1991, basketball players might have ended up participating in highly competitive televised leagues that generated significant revenue. Now the combination of almost universal summer school and summer practice makes it hard for such a league to get traction. The season would be too short and players would have too little time to devote to the outside team. If the NCAA sees value in some of the rules like keeping athletes closer to home and preventing agents from running basketball leagues as tryouts and training grounds, then keep summer league certification. But lose the big stick of eligibility. Coaches now have such control over players lives in the summer that they, rather than the athlete, should be punished if a player plays on too many teams or in an unsanctioned league. That will do more to keep summer basketball in check than even the harshest penalties on athletes.