NCAA starts to simplify rules

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The NCAA Division I Board of Directors took the first step Saturday toward trying to simplify and deregulate the organization's often complex and sometimes unenforceable rules.

It also publicly acknowledged the natural competitive advantages that some schools have over others, such as BCS champion Alabama compared to smaller Division I schools, while still in the context of the NCAA's commitment to fair competition.

On the final day of the NCAA convention, the board approved 25 of 26 proposals in what is considered the most sweeping deregulation of the organization's rulebook at a single time.

NCAA president Mark Emmert called it a singular accomplishment to make changes that "set a completely new tone" for the rules. He said they will give schools more responsibility and flexibility and "focus the rules on those things that are real threats to integrity of sport rather than things that are mostly annoying."

Among the intriguing changes to take effect Aug. 1 will be the elimination of the amount of phone calls and other private communication, such as text messages and through social media, that coaches can have with recruits.

"There was virtually no debate on it. Everyone agreed that those rules need to be changed," Emmert said. "That was probably the least controversial issue in this whole process."

There will also be no limit on the number of coaches who can recruit off campus at the same time. Also gone will be restrictions on sending printed recruiting material to prospects, such as the size and colors of such material.

Athletes will be able to accept up to $300 per year beyond normal expenses to attend non-scholastic events, and receive money to help offset expenses associated with practices and competition with national teams, including tryouts. Schools will also be able to provide normal expenses, including travel, for athletes representing the school at events such as goodwill tours and media appearances.

"These new rules take a significant step toward changing the regulatory culture in Division I," said board chairman Nathan Hatch, president at Wake Forest. "These changes make sense not only for our administrators and coaches but also for our student-athletes. ... Most important, we now have guideposts, in the form of the Division I commitments, to shape all our future rules."

When asked how much of the cumbersome, nearly 500-page NCAA manual will be eliminated by the changed rules, Emmert said about 25 pages.

"But I think that grossly underestimates the importance of all of these," the NCAA president said. "Putting it in page numbers isn't as important as the fact that it's a complete reset on what the rules are about."

The only proposal that got tabled by the 18-member board, pending further discussion, was one to allow coaches to start contacting recruits beginning July 1 between their sophomore and junior years.

Emmert said there wasn't a huge objection to the idea, but were concerns from some academic leaders that the early recruitment could be intrusive for high school students. Coaches were concerned about a singular date for every sport.

The rules working group is expected to refine the proposal to include possibly four different dates.

Another of the proposals passed Saturday "acknowledges that variability will exist among members in advantages, including facilities, geographic location and resources and that such variability should not be justification for future legislation."

The focus is competitive fairness with the recognition that not all things will always be equal in terms of facilities and resources.

Emmert said what was once one of the most heavily debated issues, and one a year ago he would have expected a "knock-down, drag-out" fight, has since become more common sense and had virtually no debate.

"We're not going to try and overcome those natural competitive advantages that people have," he said. "But when student-athletes step on the field, they know that the other team's got the same number of players, they've got the same number of coaches, they've got the same number of scholarships. They may have a fancier stadium, they may have other resource advantages, but we've got a chance to beat these guys because there's competitive fairness."

A year after the board delayed implementation of a $2,000 miscellaneous expense allowance for student-athletes to help cover the full cost of attendance, there was no new proposal for consideration on the issue.

Emmert, who supports the plan, said a working group dealing with stipend now has several considerations, including a model by which the expense would be available only for students who need it rather than every athlete regardless. There is also the decision about whether such allowances would be available for only athletes on full scholarships or those with partial scholarships as well.

When talking about a needs-based proposal, Emmert used as an example his cousin who was a volleyball MVP at Washington.

"I know my cousin's circumstances and she didn't need it," he said. "But there were other players on that team for whom that would probably have been very important."

The original plan calling for the allowance was approved by the board in October 2011, but more than 160 schools signed on to override the legislation, putting it on hold before the board decided at last year's NCAA convention to delay the plan.

Emmert said he expects "a very different debate" when the issue is brought up again later this year, possibly in April.