NCAA Rule Changes May Cause More Problems Than They Solve

 

The NCAA Board of Directors approved a package of “common sense” revisions of the voluminous NCAA Rulebook at its recent annual convention in Grapevine, Texas.

The most controversial of these changes was the elimination of restrictions on when coaches and support staff for member schools can make phone calls and send text message to high school recruits.

There have been limits on the number of times coaches could call and text prospects, and there were certain periods during the year when coaches could have no contact with them at all. There were also limits on the number of members of a football staff who could make contact with prospects.

Emmert

But beginning Aug. 1 all bets are off. There will be no limits on the number of times a particular school can contact a prospect. Support staff can also get in on the fun. In theory, a school such as Alabama, with its vast financial resources, could hire 10 people to do nothing but call and text prospects 24/7.

NCAA President Mark Emmert called the changes “huge.” Wake Forest President and NCAA Board of Directors Chairman Nathan Hutch called them “a significant step.”. USA Today ran a headline that read “A Milestone.”

So it would appear that everyone will be happy with the new recruiting reality that removes some 25 pages from the dense NCAA Rulebook and lessens the chances that schools will inadvertently violate contact rules. Then again, perhaps not.

SI.com’s Stewart Mandel quoted a recruiting coordinator at a major conference school who said, “It’s insane. It’s bad on both ends. If it’s not regulated where coaches have periods here and there that are designated as breaks, you don’t get any time with your family.”

It’s great for us; but it sucks for recruits,” said another recruiting coordinator. “You take the top 50 kids in the country—every school in the country is going to be calling and texting these kids all day.”

“We’re going to be like a bunch of teenage school children texting all the time,” Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez told SI. “I’m going to have to learn to text faster than I do now.”

These comments are representative of comments made by numerous college and high school coaches. It seems that few people who are actually involved in college recruiting believe that these “reforms” are well conceived. The question that arises then is why did the NCAA enact these changes?

Emmert’s push to reform and streamline the NCAA”s bloated rulebook began at the August 2011 Presidential Summit. At that time, the NCAA was dealing with a number of high profile scandals involving major schools. Presidents agreed that school compliance departments, NCAA investigators and Committee on Infractions members would be better served focusing on egregious violations and not on lesser violations like too many phone calls. A Rules Working Group was formed consisting of college presidents. They recently presented the list of 26 proposed rule reforms, 25 of which were approved at the recent convention.

We should not lose sight of two important values that the NCAA has abandoned with these rule changes. One is the idea that the NCAA should try to promote a “level playing field” among its members where the size of a school’s bank account does not largely determine the success of its athletic teams. It is clear that those schools with more financial resources will be better able to take advantage of the new contact rules. Less well-off programs may find it even more difficult to recruit the kind of athletes needed to truly compete for a national title.

The second value that the NCAA is discarding is the idea that high-level recruits should be entitled to some kind of normalcy as they conclude high school. Cedar Hill (Texas) High School football coach Joey McGuire told the Dallas Morning News, “I think the NCAA has got to be going crazy….One of the reasons they are doing it is because they can’t enforce their own rules. So instead of trying to enforce them, or change them in some way, they’re just getting rid of them.”

It should be noted that there have previously been no limits on coaches using Twitter or Facebook to communicate with prospects. The recent changes just add to the potential for schools to overwhelm prospects as they try to outdo each other in prospects’ eyes.

The same rules were changed for basketball in the summer of 2012. The difference is that in basketball coaches generally sign four to 5 prospects each year and there is an early signing period in November just before the start of the college season. In football, coaches sign 20-25 prospects or more per year and there is no early signing period.

Perhaps if the NCAA really wanted to help coaches and prospects, the organization would implement an early signing period in football in August just before the season starts. The current changes really appear designed to help the image of the NCAA more than to actually solve a recruiting problem. Stay tuned to see how this shakes out over the next year.

If the NCAA really believes that by slimming down the rulebook its enforcement staff can better focus on major rule violations, it is fooling itself. The recent disclosure of NCAA staff violations in its investigation of Miami’s football and basketball programs illustrates the enforcement staff’s real problem. It has no subpoena powers to obtain documents and to compel testimony. Without these powers the enforcement staff is left to hope for whistle blowers and to try and obtain documents by sometimes dubious means.

Once again, the NCAA appears more concerned with appearance than with reality. Given its recent actions an observer has to take any promises of real change in rules enforcement with, not just a grain, but a whole bottle of salt.

Readers wanting more information on this issue should read about the NCAA’s investigation of Miami in Sports Illustrated.

Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at gtyler@ussa.edu.