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NCAA Rules: How Much Impact Will The New NCAA Rules Reform Have?

Yesterday, as you may have heard, the NCAA adopted a package of reforms far more sweeping and significant than we have seen in many years.  President Mark Emmert has been promising changes for a while now, and if any good can be said to have come out of the rash of NCAA scandals that cropped up almost unabated over the last eight months, the impetus and pressure it has kept on rules reform is the silver lining to that dark cloud.

Perhaps the reform which has everyone talking is the new provision to allow schools to provide up to $2,000 in additional funds to cover the gap between the value of the scholarship and full cost of attendance:

The Board also adopted legislation that addresses the miscellaneous costs of attending college. Student-athletes who receive full athletics scholarships or get other school financial aid will have the opportunity to receive additional athletics aid (or other institutional aid, including use of the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund) up to the full cost of attendance or $2,000, whichever is less.

Obviously, this new provision brings some baggage along with it.  First, most people, including John Calipari, don't think that $2,000 is enough.  Coach Cal, among others such as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, think the gap is closer to $4,000 than $2,000.

Also, as a non-mandatory requirement, it's likely that the extra money will be provided mostly in leagues where the schools can afford it.  What that will produce, of course, is a situation in which the richer schools are able to provide more than the poorer ones, further increasing the recruiting advantage by profitable sports programs over those who lose money.

It's pretty clear that the reason the NCAA kept the benefit at $2,000 rather than a higher amount was to help moderate the problem -- more schools will be able to afford $2,000 than a larger sum, even if that is insufficient to fully fund the "gap."

For those "camels nose under the tent" guys and gals that thinks the NCAA is paving the way for "pay to play," let me remind you that there is nothing new about changing the allowed compensation limits up and down in NCAA legislation, and that this incredibly modest amount was only approved after much hand-wringing and clear evidence that the gap was hurting some student-athletes.  Far from paving the way to more substantial benefits, this is the sort of incremental reform that the NCAA typically does, so read more into this at the peril of years of continued frustration.

The second big reform is allowing schools to offer scholarships in excess of one year.  This one is interesting.  I have been calling for longer scholarships for years, but the way the reform is worded is "may."  The minimum is still one year, and they have not reformed the revocation aspect of the scholarships.  However, schools may now offer student athletes rides as long as potentially four years (it could be more, depending on what "full term of eligibility" actually means).  That could be used by some schools as a recruiting advantage, particularly when competing with larger schools for marginal or insufficiently evaluated athletes.

For example, let's say that UAB and Alabama are both interested in a high 3-star football player.  Nick Saban doesn't want to give him a 3 or 4 year scholarship because he might not turn out good enough.  UAB comes in and offers him a 3-year ride.  Advantage UAB.  This provision will not be quite as useful in basketball due to the "one and done" rule, but with football it will be significant.

Based on the most recent multi-year APR, here are the number of teams that would be subject to penalties at those levels:

Men’s Basketball

900 – 30 teams

930 – 99 teams

FBS Football

900 – 0 teams

930 – 17 teams

FCS Football

900 – 6 teams

930 – 37 teams

Yet another reform that will not be so warmly greeted by many is a higher APR standard, plus significantly more stringent enforcement.  The new standard will be 930, up from 900, and the enforcement process for this new standard will result is far more significant penalties. 

The major new penalty is that schools not meeting the APR requirement of 900 in 2012-13 and 2013-14 will not be allowed to participate in any post-season tournament.  At 2014-15, the new 930 APR goes into effect with the same consequences, as well as a tiered system of penalties (replacing the current system) that works like this:

Tier 1 -- reduced practice time of 4 hours/week, which must be spent in academic effort;

Tier 2 -- Loss of games, either in the regular season or pre-season tournaments or other games;

Tier 3 -- Loss of scholarships, coaching suspensions (this means you, Jim Calhoun), or restriction of membership in the NCAA.  The tier 3 sanctions would be continuous until the APR standards are met.

These tiers are cumulative, which means you start with tier 1 and add tier 2 and 3 as you go.

The NCAA also helpfully provides this table to the right to show just how serious they are.  It's kind of scary to think that 100 teams right now would be unable to participate in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT, or any other post-season tournament.  According to this article, UConn is already a casualty:

UPDATE (6:45 P.M.): The fallout from today's rule changes is already becoming evident, as the University of Connecticut is expected to be ineligible for the 2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament as a result of the new APR requirements, according to the Associated Press.

While a UConn official told the Hartford Courant that the school's 2010-11 APR score should be around 975 when it's released in April, that won't be enough to salvage UConn's postseason eligibility.

Because of the small number of players, basketball is especially vulnerable to this requirement, and is going to require very serious effort by coaches and staff to ensure that players are on track to graduate, especially players like Darius Miller who have been at the school for four years.  Players that are behind in their progress toward a diploma can really hurt a school, as well as players like Daniel Orton who run off and leave in poor academic standing. 

There are other academic reforms regarding transfer students and initial eligibility requirements that you can read about in the NCAA press release, but one I want to highlight is the creation of an "academic redshirt":

The Board also adopted new initial eligibility standards. The presidents support a model that creates a higher academic standard for incoming freshman to compete than to receive aid and practice, creating an academic red shirt year.

I think this is a much-needed reform and a very good one.  What it does, instead of just creating a hard demarcation between qualifiers and partial qualifiers, which many leagues don't accept, is produce a minimum requirement for aid and practice, and another for game eligibility.  Student-athletes meeting the first would be eligible for a scholarship and practice play, and those meeting both would be eligible for games.  Presumably, this would still be governed by the 5-4 rule, and a player captured by this requirement would still potentially be eligible for four years of actual game play.

Finally, there is this rather cryptic paragraph:

Presidents also voted to allow institutions to provide financial aid to former student-athletes who remain at or return to the institution to complete their degrees after they have exhausted their eligibility.

I say it is cryptic, because as I read the rules, schools can already do this.  Somebody is going to have to help me with this one, I've spent enough time trying to sort through the NCAA Sanskrit on this point.

Finally, the NCAA also adopted a package of recruiting reforms for men's basketball, including:

  • Unlimited phone calls and text messages to recruits (sounds like an AT&T commercial);
  • Deregulation of social media like Facebook and Twitter private messaging.
  • Public messaging is still restricted due to the rule forbidding public discussion of recruiting efforts.

These reforms all come into force after a recruit's sophomore year.  Does that mean we can Free Kelvin?

Other reforms adopted:

  • A modified July evaluation period consisting of three four-day periods, down from two ten-day periods;
  • Allowing schools to pay travel expenses and a parent/guardian starting January 1 of his junior year;
  • Allowing some contact with recruits' high school during their junior year in conjunction with an evaluation (restriction and requirements apply);
  • The April period will be limited to certified events that start after 6:00 PM on Friday and end before 4:00 PM on Sunday;
  • Permitting staged evaluations on campus in conjunction with official visits (restrictions may apply);

In summary, this represents the most significant reforms that I can personally remember in a single year in the NCAA.  Kudos to Mark Emmert for getting this going and seeing it through.  It is a fairly impressive accomplishment for anyone for as short a time as he has been there, and if this is more of a trend than a blip on the radar, the NCAA might just reform itself into something that draws far less derision from fans and media.  We'll see.