Question of the Day

Are the NCAA’s efforts at deregulation worthwhile? Will they work? Which ideas are most promising?

By Lorraine Berry

Lorraine Berry is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.

Athletic Management, 13.2, February/March 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1302/qofday.htm

Todd Turner
Director of Athletics
Vanderbilt University, Division I
I think the efforts at deregulation are noble and not at all misdirected. However, in practical terms, I think we’re discovering that we’re trying to tame a complex beast. Take, as one example, the amateurism deregulation effort. It’s great to think that with one swoop of your hand you can create rules that are equally appropriate for everyone and simplify everything. But, the fact of the matter is every sport has its own nuances and its own characteristics that require specific rules or policies. What’s right for golf is not necessarily right for football.

It simply may not be in our best interests to deregulate. Our jobs are to administer each sport appropriately and in a way that’s fair for all. If that means that we have to create a different set of guidelines for tennis and lacrosse, then, in my opinion, that’s what we need to do. That may make things more complicated, but I think you’ve got to do what’s right for the sports themselves.

A lot of what we’re doing in amateurism started with tennis, because of international play in the tennis community. All we’ve done is copy some of the tennis legislation and it just doesn’t work for sports such as football and basketball.

I think baseball is also facing some difficult issues with the amateurism proposal. Young people often get drafted right out of high school and play a year of professional baseball—are we going to recruit out of the minor leagues? I’m not sure that’s the setting that colleges and universities should be recruiting in.

I worry about that for all sports. I worry that we’re going to send our coaches out to recruit in settings where academics is not a common denominator for those athletes.

I think the NCAA has made a laudable effort to try to simplify things, and we shouldn’t back off from trying to make the rules and guidelines easier to administer. But this is a very complicated business that we’re in, more so than most other businesses—where we are regulated right down to what color ink we can put on a piece of paper. It’s really difficult.

Barbara Schroeder
Director of Athletics
Regis University, Division II
It’s definitely a great move for Division II—and everything I say is from a Division II perspective. When we federated, we realized there were a lot of rules that mostly applied to Division I and rarely hit Division II. So not only do we want to streamline our manual, but we also want to get rid of things that we rarely see in Division II.

This year, we worked on changing the rules in regards to financial aid. I think the things we did there are going to benefit all Division II schools. For example, countable aid packages are going to allow us to accommodate walk-on students and increase our roster sizes, providing more opportunities for student-athletes. That’s kind of the Division II philosophy. We want to create more opportunities. In Division II, this is really going to work.

As for amateurism, deregulation is going to help us by eliminating the need to track money and figure out whether a student-athlete has participated in organized competition before he or she came to college. It makes more sense to give those athletes an opportunity than it does to say, “Well, you ran a road race and accepted a prize, and therefore you’ve lost your amateur status.”

Coming up in Division II, I think we’re going to take a closer look at deregulating some of the recruiting rules. I’m not talking about enticements, because I think we need those types of rules. But, as a former basketball coach, I know it is sort of comical when you read through the rules. Some of the things, like transporting and entertainment per diems, are just kind of a joke. Coaches think, “We don’t even have the money to do those kinds of things in Division II. How could that even be a factor for us?”

In Division II, we are accomplishing this huge task of deregulating through committees and project teams that go through everything, make recommendations, get feedback from the membership, and do a fair amount of educating the membership. I think the amateurism project team did a wonderful job of this. The first year, they identified the issues and sampled the membership. Then they took the whole second year to educate.

As we saw in Orlando this January, it is easier if the membership is educated on a proposal: 88 percent of Division II members voted to pass the amateurism proposals. When people are informed, they do not feel threatened by legislation.

Lori Runksmeier
Director of Athletics
New England College, Division III
I think deregulation as a theory is good. If the rules are simpler and more easily understood, it takes away the “Oh, I didn’t know,” or “Oh, I didn’t understand that,” part. Using deregulation that way would be a good thing.

But you also have to consider why the rule book is as big as it is: People are always looking for ways to get around the rules. I think the problem with regulation is that it’s hard to legislate integrity. No matter how many rules you have, you can’t really do that.

Here’s one example. In Division III, we’re talking about having stricter oversight of financial aid by putting in an auditing process. The auditing process, as it’s being talked about, would necessitate going through student-athlete rosters. Well, if I’m already giving financial aid illegally, why wouldn’t I just mess with the rosters? There’s always a way to get around the rules.

But I think deregulation can be worthwhile is if it can truly rid Division III of rules that were really created for Division I programs. For instance, this year’s deregulation package did away with a lot of the restrictions regarding a coach’s outside income. Really, at Division III, we don’t need restrictions on coaches’ outside incomes. The key is to keep the Division III philosophy at the heart of the decisions that are made for Division III.

I actually think that in Division III we should try to pass blanket laws for all the sports. The Division III philosophy, as I understand it, is that athletics should be about the student-athlete. To me, a women’s lacrosse player deserves every bit the same experience a men’s basketball player does.

At this level, I can’t philosophically justify tiering sports. None of my sports are revenue producers. None of my sports are going to make money for New England College. So how can I say that a men’s basketball player should get treated any differently than a women’s lacrosse player? I can’t do that.

Jeremy Foley
Director of Athletics
University of Florida, Division I
Ever since I’ve been involved in the NCAA, there’s always been an attempt to deregulate, so it’s hard for me to answer a broad question like that. We would all be in favor of reducing the rule book, but not if it means we go back to where we have issues that cause us problems.

I think that anything that makes our lives easier is fine, but if it actually complicates our lives, then it means our current structure isn’t all that bad. Sure, it can be tweaked; it can be better. But a lot of athletic programs have thrived under the existing set of rules and will continue to thrive.

In terms of deregulating amateurism rules, I think it makes sense for some sports, but not all. At the NCAA Convention I commented that it seems we are trying to make these rules fit all of our sports. Philosophically that may be good, but as a practical matter, it doesn’t work.

I would be in favor of splitting these rules out and making sure they are applied appropriately to certain sports. But they can’t apply to all sports, in my opinion. In particular, they are problematic for men’s basketball.

This is a sensitive issue in Division I because people have put a lot of work into it and a lot of time and effort. They take pride in what they’ve come up with. And I think a lot of the work that they’ve done could be very beneficial.

For example, if a cross country runner takes $50 to win a meet in the summertime, we shouldn’t be concerned about that. I just think we need to take a hard look at how it relates to basketball. Let’s apply these rules where they fit and will make situations better, and let’s apply them. But let’s not apply them to a sport where it would hurt what people are trying to do.

Jerry Hughes
Director of Athletics
Central Missouri State University, Division II
There’s no question that deregulation is going to be better for Division II. I believe that many of the rules under the old structure were passed just because Division I passed them.

In Division II, we’ve been through two years of deregulation—each time we’re identifying things that really aren’t applicable to our situation. So we’re trying to make the rules easier for our athletes and coaches to live by. I do think we can find common ground within our division, but they’re probably not going to be the same rules Division I or Division III is implementing.

Our efforts over the last two years—simplifying recruiting a year ago, financial aid this year—have been effective. This next year we’re looking at playing and practice seasons: what you can do during the season, what you can do out of season. Some of the out of season stuff, especially, can help Division II, because right now, teams are pretty much playing year-round.

For example, some restrictions on the playing and practice seasons will give student-athletes more time to be students. I think the way the playing and practice season rules are written now leaves student-athletes little time to take a break.

Hopefully, if we put some limits on the nontraditional season, that will allow those students to spend more time on academics during that season. Some kids will like that and other kids won’t. But I think it’s good to allow the kids to be students.