The NCAA Tries To Keep Big Schools From Leaving And Forming Their Own Association


The NCAA has finally acted, removing nearly 25 pages of regulations from the NCAA rules, also known as the Division I Manual. These changes are significant and far reaching, and will have consequences.

The NCAA has just done something many of us have been calling for, and instead of going small, they have gone big, with consequences and repercussions that are difficult to foresee at this point. (Hat Tip: Greg Edwards).

Mark Emmert has been promising something like this, but the breadth and scope of it has frankly surprised me, and many others as well. The NCAA is historically a very conservative organization, and rule changes tend to come frequently, but in small, digestible chunks either for good or ill. Rarely has the NCAA made a move as dramatic and sweeping as the ones they just announced, and although this will by no means please all of the NCAA's critics, it is unquestionably the most significant package of NCAA reforms that I am aware of.

The list of changes can be found at the NCAA's press release, and it is impressively long. I'm not going to copy and past them here because it will just make it hard to make sense of them. Instead, I'll try to condense the most important ones down, combine the ones I can, and examine them a little bit. Keep in mind that I am looking at the big picture here, not the minutiae. I'll leave that for another time.

  • The first, and most deceptively significant, is that the NCAA is acknowledging that all member universities are not equal, and the NCAA is going to stop trying to level the playing field as an objective. What that means is that the fact that UK has Wildcat Coal Lodge and Western doesn't is no longer a "justification for legislation." That is far more significant than it looks, because it is an acknowledgement that some schools have built-in advantages developed over decades, and those advantages are not something the NCAA can rationally expect to control.
  • Recruiting changes are vast. No more limits on coaches recruiting off campus at a time, rules regarding coordination of recruiting have been eliminated, no more worrying about mentioning a student-athlete's name after they have signed an NLI, enrollment or financial aid agreement.
  • No more limits on phone calls, texts, and sending printed materials to recruits. Camps and clinics will also be largely deregulated by the NCAA rules.
  • Many changes in the definition and sources of allowable actual and necessary expense payments. For example, the rule that got John Wall held out for two games would no longer be in effect, and the rule that got Ryan Boatright in the NCAA trick bag would no longer be a problem. Friends, family, and even outsides sponsors can now assist with expenses as long as they aren't agents or boosters

    There are also a lot of changes regarding how those expenses are calculated, and stupid stuff like the "you can give players a bagel but not cream cheese" are eliminated. Presumably, this will also address the meal problem coach John Calipari talked about earlier.
  • Players can receive $300 over "actual and necessary expenses" and performance is no longer a forbidden criteria, it seems. Schools and conferences are allowed to pay expenses for a student-athlete to receive a non-institutional award, like the Heisman Trophy.
  • Conferences and/or the NCAA may now pay for "medical and related expenses".
  • Goodwill tours and practice/competition expenses may now be paid for by institutions.
  • Student athletes on national teams may now receive actual and necessary expenses AND reasonable benefits associated with national team practice and competition. Schools may pay for any number of national team tryouts and championship events.

I'm sure I have missed some nuances, and there will be much more on this later as the actual legislative language emerges. When you read through this, it looks for all the world as an attempt to keep the bigger schools in the NCAA fold and avoid realizing the vision of breaking off and forming their own association that Coach Cal has suggested as the next logical step.

It may just work. Essentially, these rule changes strip away the facade that all NCAA members are equal, and recognizes explicitly, and unapologetically that those differences exist and are no longer justification for smaller schools to legislate onerous regulations against larger ones in the interest of parity. Honestly, that is the primary purpose of this group of changes, and more are in the offing that will likely address athlete compensation in a comprehensive way.

I don't intend to parse the changes thoroughly until the legislative language is complete, because there are a lot of principles in here that might look a lot different in the final rule than it does in the broad statement of its intent. But overall, in my view, this was a necessary change for the NCAA to survive as currently constituted. It will exacerbate the big-school/small-school disparity, and smaller schools will hate it. Unfortunately, the big schools pay most of the freight for the association, and this is their recognition that continuing down the path of allowing smaller institutions to hamstring larger ones in the name of fairness is no longer a tenable position. If the big schools leave, the NCAA would become the NAIA on steroids.

A lot of attention is being paid to proposal 13-3, which allows coaches to call and text as much as they want. Many people are really exercised about that, but the NCAA is right to recognize that trying to emulate the federal government and make felons of us all is no way to run a railroad. Yes, that change is going to cause problems. So let someone else, like the parents and guardians, deal with it. Honestly, they should be the ones doing it anyway. The NCAA is just acknowledging that they cannot police telephone calls, and they can't.

In sum, this is nothing more than the NCAA looking out for its own survival, and in that regard, it is a step in the right direction. Calipari said it best -- Fear is the best motivator. Fear of losing your meal ticket is especially motivating.

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