Schools ask NCAA to relax member requirements

The remaining 22 Division I conferences outside of the Power 5 have joined the Group of 5 conferences in requesting that the NCAA relax its requirements for membership, including the minimum number of sports a school must sponsor and the number of games teams must play. But not all coaches were on board with the initiative.

Northeast Conference commissioner Noreen Morris, chair of the Collegiate Commissioners' Association Group (CCA22), told ESPN in an email Wednesday that CCA22 commissioners, who oversee FCS conferences and other non-football Division I leagues, submitted an addendum to the NCAA to include in its potential blanket waiver bylaws that were specific to the FCS and overall Division I membership.

"When submitting the blanket waiver addendum, the CCA22 requested that the NCAA staff assist in coordinating a comprehensive review of potential NCAA bylaws that impact all three subdivisions -- FBS, FCS and DI -- for COVID-19 blanket waiver consideration," Morris said. "A coordinated membership and national office effort in this regard is critical to ensure the membership can confidently and efficiently move forward during this uncertain time with little doubt about whether certain bylaws were inadvertently overlooked."

Morris said the CCA22 commissioners recommended that the blanket waiver be limited to a two-year timeframe, with an option for it to be extended up to four years. Group of 5 commissioners asked for a blanket waiver for four years.

The NCAA Division I Council, which will ultimately vote on the requests, will meet via videoconference this week, but no vote is expected at that time.

A group of coaches from sports that could be cut -- such as volleyball, wrestling and golf -- wrote their own letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert expressing their disagreement with relaxing requirements.

"Reducing the minimum sports sponsorship requirement that would open the door to eliminating sports should not be an option," the letter said. "We are all in this together, and we are ready, eager, and willing to partner with the NCAA to find creative solutions for the challenges to come. America's students have had so much taken from them. Now is not the time to cut them off from yet another critical institution that makes university life so special."

Earlier this month, commissioners from the Group of 5 -- the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference, Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA -- asked Emmert for temporary relief from financial aid requirements, along with average football attendance. The request was made on behalf of all 350 Division I schools.

As of now, NCAA rules require FBS schools to sponsor at least 16 varsity sports.

"Nobody wants to cut sports," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told ESPN. "There's the conspiracy theorists who say, 'Oh, this is the opportunity they've been looking for. They've been trying to cut that.' I don't believe that's really the case. If you have to sponsor 16 sports to maintain FBS Division I status, could that number be 14? That's not the intent, though. The intent is to at least sponsor what we're sponsoring now, but maybe not at the same levels required by the NCAA legislation."

The Group of 5 commissioners asked that a moratorium be placed on schools moving into Division I for the length of the waiver. They also requested lifting rules that required schools:

• Offer a minimum of 200 athletic grants-in-aid per year or spend at least $4 million in grants-in-aid on athletes and provide 90% of the permissible maximum grants-in-aid in football over a rolling two-year period.

• Once every two years on a rolling basis, average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football games. This requirement applies only to FBS schools.

• Play minimum numbers of total games and home games in sports such as baseball, football and basketball and minimum percentage of games against Division I or FBS competition in various sports.

"As you are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic turmoil has resulted in the direst financial crisis for higher education since at least the Great Depression," the Group of 5 commissioners wrote. "Among the financial challenges being faced include significant decreases in state appropriations, substantial losses in endowment value, and a downturn in philanthropic activity. An already trying environment for enrollment is expected to see even more sizeable reductions, not to mention the continuing trend in deep reductions in the enrollment of international students. Finally, all of this is playing out with no ability to predict when normal operations might resume."