By Katie Zeck
In late January, the NCAA reportedly took its first steps toward simplifying and deregulating some of the organization’s more intricate and often unenforceable rules.
At this time, NCAA President Mark Emmert said that these changes would give schools more flexibility and responsibility, and the rules would focus on things that “are real threats to integrity of sport rather than things that are mostly annoying.”
These changes to “outdated” rules are a sign of the controversies surrounding the NCAA. Some schools are pushing back while the power conferences are threatening to break away — an outcome that would not be beneficial to Rider.
See Dr. A.J. Moore’s opinion piece on the future of the NCAA on page 9.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted on a change that would allow coaches to make phone calls and have other forms of private communication, such as text messages and social media, with recruits. This change will take effect August 1, as will the change that will no longer place a limit on the number of coaches who can recruit off-campus at the same time. The restrictions on the size and colors of printed recruiting materials that are sent to prospects will also be lifted at this time.
Other new changes to the rulebook include the amount of money athletes will be able to receive to help offset expenses associated with practices, competitions and traveling for non-scholastic events. In total, 25 recruiting rules were deregulated.
According to Rider’s NCAA compliance officer Greg Busch, these changes won’t have a major impact on Rider’s recruiting process for its Division I sports.
“Some of the smaller-staffed programs might have a harder time keeping up with their peers in terms of being able to make unlimited contact with recruits, but I think the deregulation proposals would have a neutral effect on our coaches’ recruiting abilities,” Busch said.
For the most part, Busch is in favor of the deregulations. His concern lies in the possible exploitation of the now loosened rules.
“Many of the NCAA’s recruiting rules have become outdated in recent years, and so, in this respect, I am generally in favor of deregulation,” Busch said. “The problem with deregulation is someone always finds a way to exploit them, which can have a negative trickle-down effect, which counters the original goal of deregulation. For this reason, while I and many of our coaches would be in support of many of the deregulation proposals, there is concern about how a less-structured recruiting world might function.”
As of March 2013, the NCAA had received requests from schools to review two of the proposed changes. The first deregulation said that someone affiliated with the university who is not a coach could recruit a player. The second deregulated printed recruiting materials that colleges could send to recruits. These two recruiting deregulation rules are currently suspended. The board will consider the modified proposals when it reconvenes on May 2 in Indianapolis.
The board hopes that once passed, these new rules will shift the regulatory culture in Division I sports.
Graduate student and member of the women’s basketball team Carleigh Brown said that she feels the Division I recruitment process and the changes being made to it have pros and cons.
“As an athlete, I felt that the recruiting process was not too strenuous,” she said. “I feel that it is beneficial to the athlete that coaches are only allowed to contact you a certain amount of times a month or week. If phone calls and texting were unlimited, I feel that some coaches may take this overboard and will end up only turning the athlete off of the school instead of making them want to commit. The way things are now, the athlete is able to contact the school as much as they want, but they have to initiate the phone call. This puts the contact level in the hands of the athlete, which I feel is best.”
In contrast, many coaches and athletic directors, mostly from schools much larger than Rider, are opposed to the proposed changes.
According to a New York Times article from February, Greg McGarity, athletic director for the University of Georgia, believes these changes lead to more money to be spent by the schools’ athletic departments on recruitment efforts because of the unlimited amount of contact that can now be made with high school athletes, recruiting materials that can be sent in the mail and the recruiting staff size.
“It is going to start a round of competition among schools that is going to be limitless,” McGarity told New York Times reporter Ray Glier.
Dr. A.J. Moore, a communication professor who teaches classes in the business of sports minor, feels that some of these deregulations were necessary to keep up with current technology.
“The whole idea about how you can communicate with kids, they had to change those rules with the popularity of social media and texting,” Moore said. “If coaches want to interact with kids, they had to change to meet different means of communication.”
Busch feels that enforcing the NCAA’s rules is not a difficult task at Rider because of the university’s committed and ethical coaching staff.
“The ability to be in compliance with the NCAA rules and regulations depends in large part on the integrity of the coaches and staff within your athletic department,” Busch said. “Many of the issues that arise at larger programs come as the result of coaches who willingly break rules in order to gain an advantage over their peers. All of our coaches are knowledgeable about NCAA rules. Our coaches, as a group, are very ethical in how they approach their jobs. This makes enforcing the NCAA’s rules much easier.”
Busch added that inadvertent violations are expected and may occur from time to time. On average, a Division I institution will report a handful of secondary, or unintentional and inadvertent, violations each year. However Rider, along with all NCAA members, is required to undergo a compliance audit once every four years, Busch said.
“These audits are conducted by the appropriate member conferences,” he said. “In our case, the MAAC will come down for a period of three days once every four years and evaluate our entire compliance operation. This includes conducting in-person interviews with various personnel both inside and outside of the Athletic Department, and reviewing all of our policies, procedures and documentation to ensure we are appropriately monitoring and adhering to all NCAA rules.”
In addition to the audit, the academic progress of the Division I schools’ student athletes is recorded. This review is performed through the Academic Progress Rate (APR). According to the NCAA website, this is a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each semester or term.
The NCAA’s Committee of Academic Performance states that beginning with the 2012-13 championships, teams must earn a minimum 900 four-year APR or a 930 average over the most recent two years to be eligible to participate in the championship. For the 2014-15 championship, the teams must earn a 930 four-year APR average, or a 940 average over the most recent two years.
During the 2011-12 school year, all of Rider’s Division I teams reached the APR standards, with the lowest team during this year — men’s soccer — reporting an APR of 971. In comparison to other local Division I schools, Rider’s student athletes perform only slightly better.
The NCAA does not take the APRs lightly. A total of 35 Division I teams received penalties for not reaching the APR standards for the 2012-13 year, meaning that they scored below 900. There were nine teams deemed ineligible for postseason competition as a result.
Of these penalized teams, one of the most noteworthy was the University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team, which was banned from the 2012-13 post-season championship because of the team’s poor academic performance. Other schools’ men’s basketball teams that were banned from playoffs include Towson University in Maryland, Texas A&M, Jacksonville State University and the University of Arkansas.
However, when the decision about whether or not a team is able to attend its playoffs rides on the academic performance of its athletes, it lends itself to the question: What lengths will schools go to in order to reach the minimum APR?
According to Moore, different forms of leeway are given to student athletes in the classroom — specifically at schools where the sports teams are renowned and missing playoffs would be an embarrassment.
“I think there’s a lot of ways athletes get preferential treatment, especially at a larger school where professors want to be seen as a part of the team,” said Moore. “At these schools there’s always going to be that team mentality and some of those professors might let students get away with things. But at larger schools where winning is everything, some professors want to take their own personal stand and be tougher on the students. But for the most part, athletes at larger schools will receive certain advantages.”
At smaller schools like Rider where the mentality isn’t all about winning, there isn’t nearly as much favored treatment, Moore added.
Rider’s Athletic Director Don Harnum finds that the NCAA regulations can become complicated and cumbersome, making deregulation an overall positive change but with a few drawbacks.
“The complications lie in the practical application of exactly how far to take deregulation,” Harnum said. “Most NCAA rules and regulations were put into effect in an attempt to create a level playing field amongst a very broad and diverse range of institutions — and this is a positive. Therefore, I do not support total deregulation, but do think the entire set of bylaws and existing rules should be simplified for easier interpretation and application. Schools need to have certain flexibility to govern themselves while still conforming with a set of NCAA standards and regulations.”
Moore feels that there will never be self-regulation, though he predicts that there will be schools that leave the NCAA in the foreseeable future.
“Within the next decade, we will see power conferences break away from NCAA,” he said. “They will create their own rulings and become their own entity so that they don’t have to deal with regulations that level playing field. They will look at regulations that will focus on winning.
“We are already seeing some of this with conference realignments. You can never have self-regulation because you have schools like Kentucky and Ohio State whose whole business is to win, and then you have Division I schools like Rider, which does not have a mentality of winning at all costs. Because of these different agendas between schools, there can never be self-regulation.”
Harnum admits that he doesn’t have a definitive stance on the deregulations.
“[I] might appear to have a middle of the road type of a response, but I think it speaks to the complexity of the issue that will require some form of compromise between total deregulation and what currently exists.”
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