Athletic Management, 12.6, Oct/Nov 2000, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1206/bbdebates.htm
November’s presidential election isn’t the only vote worth watching closely this fall. A package of proposed changes to long-standing NCAA amateurism rules faces its first big test in October when it will be brought before the NCAA Division I Management Council.
Four years in the making, the proposed rules would have a wide-ranging impact on determining who will be able to participate in NCAA Division I athletics. The package sparked much debate, but limited consensus, when it was originally released last fall. So the Division I Academic/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet’s Subcommittee on Agents and Amateurism has spent the past year refining the package based on the response to its original proposals.
The Subcommittee hopes the package receives its first vote of approval from the Division I Management Council in October, which would trigger a five-month comment period. The Council would then consider the package again at its legislative meeting in April. If approved by the Council a second time, the proposals would immediately go to the Board of Directors, who need approve them only once. If all goes according to the timeline, portions of the new legislation could take effect as early as August 1, 2001.
The proposed rules, if passed, would allow student-athletes much greater leeway in their activities before college enrollment. For example, student-athletes would be allowed to do any of the following without permanently losing eligibility, as is usually the case now:
• Enter a professional draft.
• Participate in organized competition (see Sidebar, below).
• Accept prize money based on finish position.
• Receive pay or compensation for athletic participation.
Student-athletes wouldn’t receive a free pass to play in the pros, though, since the proposed legislation requires that prospective student-athletes lose one year of collegiate eligibility for each season of participation in organized competition following high school graduation. In addition, student-athletes would be required to fulfill one academic year in residence before being eligible to compete.
The Cabinet has proposed three exceptions to the organized competition guidelines. One exception permits prospective ice hockey players two years of competition in USA Hockey or the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association before losing any collegiate eligibility. Another exception allows athletes in all sports one year of prep school after high school without penalty, and the third permits student-athletes one year of participation in the Olympic or Pan American Games.
Another proposal in the package attempts to resolve the controversy over prospective student-athletes receiving funds covering educational expenses. The new legislation would allow educational expenses to be paid on behalf of a pre-enrolled student-athlete provided that the money paid by the benefactor goes directly to the institution. In addition, the funds must not originate from an agent, professional sports organization, or representative of a university’s athletics interests.
Even though the package of proposals has been updated since last year to address some sport-specific concerns, many coaches are still wary about the affect these changes could have on their sport. The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) has been one of the most vocal critics of the reforms. The Association argues that if passed, the new legislation will further hinder the already difficult task of convincing young athletes of the importance of academics and will characterize collegiate athletics as a last resort rather than an immediate goal in the minds of some athletes.
The group also expressed concern over the negative influence self-interested adults could exact on young and impressionable student-athletes and stressed that the proposals will likely complicate recruiting. Others in basketball have aired fears that the proposals will open the door for the formation of “super leagues”.
Baseball coaches also see some negative implications. Robert Todd, Head Baseball Coach at Ohio State University, worries that professional baseball could try to take advantage of the new rules and strong-arm college programs. He envisions a scenario where a pro baseball team signs a two-way player, like a catcher/first baseman, only to discover after one season that the player’s skills at first base are inadequate. If the organization is already has enough catchers, it might encourage the player to develop his catching skills in a collegiate program, promising to re-sign him later if he improves. According to Todd, the organization might, then, begin calling schools, telling the coaches that it has a player it wants developed as a catcher.
“What you would have then is pro baseball kind of dictating to a college program what it can and can’t do,” Todd says. “I’d hate to see something like that escalate.”
Another group beginning to join the debate is high school administrators. “The NCAA is proposing to allow high school athletes to receive pay for competing in amateur events,” says Robert Kanaby, Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). “Already we are seeing and hearing of summer coaches who have admitted to paying players to participate in amateur events. What the NCAA is considering would make matters even worse.”
The NCAA’s amateurism proposals “would completely alter the existing education-based athletics program and turn it into an athletics-based education system,” says Charlie Adams, Executive Director of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. “The NCAA is taking the tack that they cannot regulate their potential players so they will just eliminate the regulations. These changes would undermine high school programs throughout the country. Top prospects would be driven away from the high school programs that are run by educators to other programs that are controlled by no one.”
At the same time, however, there are many constituents who support the proposals, including the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). The group endorsed the package during its June meeting and encouraged those in the NCAA to stand behind it. “We understand that there might be a tendency for some to resist these significant changes,” said SAAC Chair Brian Dillon, a golfer at University of the Pacific, in the July 3, 2000, edition of The NCAA News. “But this package isn’t about competitive equity, it’s about equitable treatment of prospective student-athletes, which we’re all for.”
Dick Rockwell, Director of Athletics at LeMoyne College and former Chair of the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee, also sees the positive side to the proposals. “I think it’s long overdue,” he says. “I understand it’s the kid’s fault if he comes out of high school, signs a pro contract for nothing, and gets released in the first year. But I think it’s also not right that you really hammer the kid for life. Kids do make mistakes and sign, because everyone wants to be a pro player.”
Christine Grant, Chair of the Subcommittee and recently retired Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Iowa, explains the impetus for the proposals: “The NCAA has been having tremendous difficulty in investigating what a prospective student-athlete has done in all of the years prior to enrolling at a university,” she says. “With the number of prospective student-athletes who now come from all over the world, that is an almost-impossible task. Every country has its own definition of amateur, and even our own country has many different definitions, so it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to be consistent when trying to establish if a young person is an amateur or a professional.
“Right now, we’re asking them at a very young age to make decisions that affect their entire life,” she continues, “and I think we should give them a break.”
In addition to changes to the rules regarding pre-enrollment activity, this summer, the Subcommittee added to the package new rules for enrolled student-athletes. They include:
• Permitting an individual to receive educational expenses from a sports governing organization of a foreign country that is the equivalent of the U.S. Olympic Committee or U.S. national governing body.
• Permitting student-athletes who are members of an Olympic team to accept all prizes and benefits associated with participation in the Olympic Games, regardless of whether the student is enrolled at the time of participation.
• Permitting prospective and current student-athletes to accept Operation Gold grant funds.
• Permitting student-athletes to accept fee-for-lesson compensation provided specified conditions are met.
Meanwhile, Division II is expected to pass and enact its amateurism reforms first. The package, which addresses only pre-enrolled student-athletes, is similar to Division I’s.
According to Amateurism Project Team members, the impetus behind Division II’s rules changes arose from reinstatement cases and questions of whether D-II student-athletes were being placed at a disadvantage against older, more experienced student-athletes. In August, the Division II Presidents Council supported the six-proposal package, leaving Division II delegates to cast the final vote on the package at the January 2001 convention.
Division III is also considering changing its amateurism rules. But this effort is still in the early stages.
The full text of each Division I proposal can be found through the NCAA’s Web site at www.ncaa.org/databases/legislation.
“Organized competition” has been defined as:
• Any competition in which compensation, (including actual and necessary expenses), is provided to any participants.
• Any competition pursuant to the signing of a contract for athletics participation.
• Any competition pursuant to involvement in the draft process.
• Any competition funded by a professional sports organization, excluding nonprofit organizations.
• Any competition funded by a representative of an institution’s athletics interests.