NCAA Waves White Flag on Competitive Equity, Institutes Sweeping Deregulation

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, January 22. THIS weekend at the NCAA Division I Board of Directors meeting held in Grapevine, Texas, the committee took a completely new stance on longstanding attempts to keep money out of college athletics.

During its meeting, 25 of 26 new proposals effective Aug. 1 were approved, with sweeping changes being made regarding recruiting communication and funneling money to student-athletes. These changes mark the single largest deregulation in the organization's history.

For decades, the NCAA had stood on the foundation that all colleges should compete for recruits with advantages being regulated out of the process. This weekend, the NCAA finally gave up on that vision and publicly recognized that some schools just have it better off than others when it comes to the recruiting process.

As part of its release detailing the 25 new proposals that have been approved, the NCAA explained its reasoning behind the deregulation.

“The goal of deregulation is to protect and enhance the student-athlete experience, shift the regulatory focus from competitive equity to fair competition and allow schools to use the natural advantages of geography, a talented student-athlete or deeper pockets,” the NCAA stated. “Over time, the rulebook has expanded to include rules designed to limit those things. The deregulation effort hopes to shift the focus from limiting the advantages of individual schools to making sure all schools compete within the framework of the collegiate model, in which athletics competition is an integral part of the student-athlete's education.”

With that statement, the NCAA made it explicit that it would no longer attempt to stop the haves from using their deeper pockets to outspend the rest of the NCAA have-nots in the recruiting process. The NCAA is no longer going to try to force all athletics programs to be equal, it is only going to focus on making sure that recruiting happens fairly.

A total of 25 out of 26 proposals were approved this weekend with them taking effect August 1. Nearly all rules regarding communication and contact with recruits have been eliminated.

There are currently a number of rules regulating communication and contact between a prospective student-athlete and a coaching staff, most of which begin the summer following a recruit's junior year of high school. For example, only one phone call is allowed per week, while texting is currently prohibited at the NCAA Division I level. Coaches and recruits are also currently allowed to have unlimited email contact. Starting this summer, it will be up to the recruits to limit contact and not the schools.

The communication rules were stripped primarily due to the changing nature of communication trends with recruits, as well as the difficulty of enforcing such rules. With social media and texting largely the preferred method of contact for recruits, rules banning such contact were seen as antiquated.

Additionally, recruits will have to be prepared to be swamped with printed recruiting materials. These publications had nearly been regulated out of existence, but now the NCAA is going to allow schools to do whatever they want in terms of communication with recruits.

The bulk of the proposals will have an immediate impact within the sport of swimming as Arena continues to devote more dollars to swimming via its sponsorship of the FINA World Cup and the USA Swimming Grand Prix.

Starting in August, student-athletes who wish to remain NCAA eligible will be able to take race winnings “up to actual and necessary competition-related expenses.” This is one change of many being made to help the NCAA, and its institution members, funnel more money earned from the competitive athletics product to those that create it.

For instance, that $4,800 that Missy Franklin is currently turning down for her podium finishes thus far as part of the Arena Grand Prix this year — under the new rules, she would have been able to offset her travel expenses with her winnings.

Or, that $5,000 that Tom Shields earned but turned down while globetrotting on the FINA World Cup circuit this fall to get in some solid race training instead of swimming in college dual meets for California, he would have been able to accept enough to help offset what likely wound up being a hefty travel bill.

The NCAA president Mark Emmert said during a press conference that the proposals this weekend likely only eliminate 25 pages of a nearly 500-page NCAA rulebook.

“But I think that grossly underestimates the importance of all of these,” Emmert told the media. “Putting it in page numbers isn't as important as the fact that it's a complete reset on what the rules are about.”

Here is a full breakdown of the proposals passed, that take effect Aug. 1.

Change from competitive equity to fair competition
2-1, which will establish the commitments that guide the underlying operating bylaws. This includes a commitment to fair competition, which “acknowledges that variability will exist among members in advantages, including facilities, geographic location and resources and that such variability should not be justification for future legislation.” It also includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Massive deregulation of recruiting rules
11-2, which will eliminate the rules defining recruiting coordination functions that must be performed only by a head or assistant coach.

11-3-B, which will prohibit the live scouting of future opponents except in limited circumstances.

11-4, which will remove limits on the number of coaches who can recruit off-campus at any one time, the so-called “baton rule.”

More money to student-athletes
12-1, which will establish a uniform definition of actual and necessary expenses.

12-2, which will allow the calculation of actual and necessary expenses to be based on the total over a calendar year instead of an event-by-event basis for both prospective and enrolled student-athletes.

12-3, which will allow a student-athlete to receive $300 more than actual and necessary expenses, provided the expenses come from an otherwise permissible source.

12-4, which will permit individuals to receive actual and necessary competition-related expenses from outside sponsors, so long as the person is not an agent, booster or representative of a professional sports organization.

12-5, which will allow student-athletes in sports other than tennis to receive up to actual and necessary competition-related expenses based on performance from an amateur team or event sponsor.

12-6, which will allow student-athletes and prospects to receive actual and necessary expenses for training, coaching, health insurance and the like from a governmental entity.

16-1, which will allow institutions, conferences or the NCAA national office to provide an award to student-athletes any time after initial full-time enrollment.

16-2, which will allow conferences, an institution, the U.S. Olympic Committee, a national governing body or the awarding agency to provide actual and necessary expenses for a student-athlete to receive a non-institutional award or recognition for athletics or academic accomplishments. Expenses can also be provided for parents/legal guardians, a spouse or other relatives.

16-3, which will allow institutions, conferences or the NCAA to pay for other academic support, career counseling or personal development services that support the success of the student-athlete.

16-4, which will allow institutions, conferences or the NCAA to pay for medical and related expenses for a student-athlete.

16-5, which, except in limited circumstances, will change all Bylaw 16 references to a student-athlete's spouse, parents, family members or children to “family member,” establish a specific definition of “family member,” and permit specified benefits to such individuals.

16-6, which will allow institutions to provide reasonable entertainment in conjunction with competition or practice.

16-7, which will allow schools to provide actual and necessary expenses to student-athletes representing the institution in practice and competition (including expenses for activities/travel that are incidental to practice or competition) as well as in noncompetitive events such as goodwill tours and media appearances.

16-8, which will allow student-athletes to receive actual and necessary expenses and “reasonable benefits” associated with a national team practice and competition and also will allow institutions to pay for any number of national team tryouts and championship events.

More publicity for signed student-athletes
13-1, which will allow schools to treat prospects like student-athletes for purposes of applying recruiting regulations once a National Letter of Intent or signed offer of admission or financial aid is received.

13-7, which will eliminate restrictions on publicity once a prospective student-athlete has signed a National Letter of Intent or written offer of financial aid or admission.

Free-for-all in communication limits with recruits
13-3, which will eliminate restrictions on methods and modes of communication during recruiting.

13-4, which will eliminate the requirement that institutions provide materials such as the banned-drug list and Academic Progress Rate data to recruits.

13-5-A, which will eliminate restrictions on sending printed recruiting materials to recruits. Conferences still will be prohibited from sending printed recruiting materials.

13-8, which will deregulate camps and clinics employment rules related to both recruits and current student-athletes. Senior football prospects will be allowed to participate in camps and clinics.

Elimination of double enforcement of academic regulations
14-1, which will eliminate academic regulations that are covered elsewhere and directly supported by institutional academic policy.

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