Now is a Great Time to be a Have

By Kyle Rowland on January 23, 2013 at 10:00a

In November 2010, when Mark Emmert became the NCAA president, following the much-maligned Myles Brand, he promised sweeping reform to the archaic association. Ambitious from the outset, Emmert’s term has indeed included many groundbreaking moments, most especially his unprecedented authority in the NCAA’s actions against Penn State. 

Mark Emmert promised change at the NCAA and now it's here"How do you like all of my change?"

He’s been both criticized and lauded by administrators, fans and the media. But the organization’s most recent rule changes – 25 in all – are the most significant the Division I Board of Directors has passed in decades.

And Emmert isn’t done yet. His most prized bullet point on the agenda is the $2,000 stipend that was frowned upon by smaller schools. Other changes will also receive a thumbs down, but that is part of the job description.

Since the NCAA was founded more than a century ago, its rulebook has come under fire. Some are deemed unnecessary and stupid, others are too complex while many seem unenforceable. All too often the “haves” get the benefit over the so-called “have-nots.” The NCAA has all but acknowledged that leveling the playing field is next to impossible, and it’s not their focus.

“There are universities that made investments 100 years ago that, by historical accident in some instances, have set as their role, scope and mission, things that give them competitive advantages in their ability to fund and support athletics," Emmert said at the NCAA Convention in Grapevine, Texas. “Michigan has been Michigan for a long time.”

One goal of the new deregulations is to ease the strain of the rulebook. Meaningless rules are being broken at an alarming rate. Emmert wants school to be able to focus on “real threats to integrity of sport” instead of harmless secondary violations.

According to Emmert, 25 pages in the nearly 500-page NCAA rulebook will be torn out due to the changes. It might only represent five percent of the manual, but it’s a big step for Emmert and the NCAA.

“Putting it in page numbers isn't as important as the fact that it’s a complete reset on what the rules are about,” he said.

The change that is drawing the most attention relates to recruiting. Effective Aug. 1, coaches will no longer be restricted at any point to contacting recruits via phone, text message or any form of social media. There will be no more one-call-per-week limits or dead periods. It’ll be a 24/7 free-for-all.

Prospects have complained in the past about overbearing coaches. This new rule certainly does nothing to curtail that. The Urban Meyers and Nick Sabans of the world – dogged recruiters – are almost certainly in favor of the move.

“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.”

Off-campus recruiting rules also have been changed. There will no longer be a cap on how many coaches can recruit away from their campus at the same time. If recruits are poster fans, well, get ready. More are coming. Universities will not have any restrictions on printed material mailed to prospective players. Frequency, size, expense – it doesn’t matter.

Who knows, maybe an Ohio State recruit will receive an Urban Meyer Fathead in the mail.

At first glance, the gap seems to have widened between upper- and lower-tier programs. The more resources and bigger budget you have, the better off you now are with the new recruiting rules in place. Ohio State, Alabama and Florida will have no issue sending more mail or having coaches fly to far-flung locales. Bowling Green, UAB and Florida International don’t have the same means to compete with the top programs.

“We’re not going to overcome those natural competitive advantages people have,” Emmert said. “But when student-athletes step onto the field they know the other team has same number of players and scholarships. They may have a fancier stadium, but we have a chance to beat these guys because there’s competitive fairness.”

Universities no longer have restrictions on printed material mailed to prospective players.Going out to every elite prospect in the nation.

But opening a Pandora’s box probably wasn’t the direction the NCAA needed to go in, and that’s almost certainly what the end result will be. Recruiting is already a bloodsport akin to the Wild West. Winning the national championship is competitive, but that chase begins with talented blue-chip players. And it can turn into a vile scene. Giving coaches unlimited boundaries in contacting recruits creates a slippery slope.  

Now it will be up to the coaches to decide when enough is enough. But in the back of their minds, they might always be looking for an edge over a rival or think opposing coaches are one step ahead. That could result in numerous phone calls and text messages every day.

The only proposal that didn’t gain full support from the 18-member board also involved recruiting. If passed, it would have allowed coaches the ability to contact recruits beginning July 1 between their sophomore and junior years. Even the NCAA thought recruiting high schools students at that age was a little too much.

In the area of money for student-athletes, a hot topic one year ago, a slight variation of the issue passed. In 2012, a plan that would have given scholarship athletes an additional $2,000 stipend was suspended after non-BCS schools almost unanimously opted to override the vote, citing costs. It would have added nearly $500,000 to their operating budgets. Now athletes will be able to accept up to $300 to help offset costs associated with athletic events not associated with their university. The hope is student-athletes will be less inclined to accept illegal payments from boosters. 

Emmert, who was onboard with the $2,000 plan, said several new models have been brought to his attention. One proposes that only student-athletes who need the money are able to take advantage of it.

Perhaps the most noteworthy happening was the NCAA’s ability at getting stuff done. It has generally been known as a do-nothing, inefficient group. Not only did the NCAA pass legislation, by and large it all made sense.

“These new rules take a significant step toward changing the regulatory culture in Division I,” Nathan Hatch, chairman of the Division I Board of Directors and president of Wake Forest, said. “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.”

It’s a dose of good publicity that Emmert and his colleagues are more than happy to attract. Over the past 36 months, college sports have dropped to a level Louisiana politics is familiar with. Coaching scandals, rampant cheating and conference realignment have soured fans on the purity of college athletics.

The NCAA is currently fighting two high-profile lawsuits. One – involving disgruntled Pennsylvania politicians over Emmert and the NCAA’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky saga – doesn’t involve much substance. However, the pending dispute between Ed O’Bannon and the NCAA could result in a landmark decision dealing with student-athletes and how the NCAA uses their likeness. If the class-action lawsuit ruled in favor of O’Bannon, it would deliver a substantial blow to the organization.

“We’re all good critics,” Oregon State president Ed Ray, also the chairman of the NCAA’s Executive Committee, said. “It’s a lot easier to stand on the sidelines and say, ‘You better fix these five things.’ There’s still a lot to do, and what we’re doing is not going to be perfectly implemented. But I’m very proud of Mark and very pleased with the effort he’s putting in.”

So are the presidents, athletic directors and head coaches at the BCS schools.


Comments Show All Comments

Ethos's picture

I have a feeling that O'Bannon lawsuit is going to significantly change the NCAA's power over what they can and can't do with athletes images.  

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

ATXbucknut's picture

Good article.  I would like to see the NCAA reform (i.e. standardize) the manner in which it doles out punishments to schools.  It seems to do so in a rather fickle manner currently. And it should clarify what constitutes an "athletic scandal" and what doesn't.  I still fail to see how Penn State represents an athletic scandal and UNC does not.  The faux courses at UNC clearly represented a competitive advantage for that school.

AndyVance's picture

Totally agree; the NCAA used the "institutional control" issue to impose a quasi-death penalty on Penn State, while turning a blind eye to the egregious UNC shenanigans. I'm one who thinks they grossly overstepped their mandate in one case, and willfully chose to ignore the other.

BuckeyeBoyer85's picture

In PSU's case, concealing rampant sexual abuse by a former coordinator would keep the schools "Penn State way" recruiting pitch intact. I see this as a clear athletic advantage. How many recruits would have soured on PSU had the scandal been fully realized after the first attack? I think more than a few. 

Wayne Woodrow Hayes

AndyVance's picture

Maybe. Of course the flip side of that is that the Sandusky scandal would not have become the staggering tragedy it was had the authorities involved investigated after the first report, either, so the hypothetical impact on recruiting is just that - hypothetical.
I'm not a Penn State apologist, I just think their response was based on putting on a good show for the media and the public, instead of being based on the actual scope of their authority relative to the situation's impact on the field.

BuckeyeBoyer85's picture

I see your point. There was pressure on the NCAA to make an example. It really doesn't fall under the scope of institutional control of student athletes and NCAA bylaws.

Wayne Woodrow Hayes

AndyVance's picture

Absolutely - the biggest problem I have with this decision is not that Penn State shouldn't have been "punished," but rather than it sets a dangerous precedent for what all falls under the banner "institutional control."
It essentially gives an already highly-subjective infractions and enforcement process a carte blanche cudgel to wield as the NCAA darn well pleases. Hence you have PSU taken to the woodshed for something that - broadly speaking - had nothing to do with the team's on the field product, and UNC getting a free pass for something that clearly had some affect on the eligibility of several players over several years.

buckeyepastor's picture

This doesn't close any gap between bigger and smaller schools, but I don't think it widens it much, either.  Both before and after this rule change, smaller schools have gotten talent that the larger schools either had no room for on their roster of available scholarships at a given position, or that just chose to stay home.   The big catches that smaller schools get now aren't coming about because UFM and others didn't get to call on them and see them often enough, so getting more visits from them isn't likely to change things.   In fact, it could motivate some young men to decide and commit earlier, to spare themselves and their family the deluge of distraction.   Wouldn't that be something?   Wouldn't it be something if we came to LOI signing day and everyone but for a few attention-seeking kids had already solidly verballed to spare themselves the barrage of calls and letters?    
The small schools will continue to get the "Danny Woodhead"s that are out there because no matter how much contact the big boys are allowed, they still only have so many spaces available.   In fact, I could see where this results in some smaller programs that have great local talent (Rice, South Florida, Central Florida, Toledo, Kent St., etc.) at high schools just a stone's throw away from them might get a bit of a jump.   Imagine being a head coach at a small school close enough geographically to a talented recruit to go be present at several of his home games without missing a beat, close enough that you could be present easily on the night before your own game when the Urban Meyers and Nick Sabans can't so easily be there.     Doubtful that such opportunity will really persuade a kid that could go to OSU or 'Bama, but something to consider.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

buckeyedude's picture

it could motivate some young men to decide and commit earlier, to spare themselves and their family the deluge of distraction.                                                                     

This was the first thing I thought, because the top players are going to be deluged with snail mail/phone calls and e-mail. They may just say, "F-it, I'm tired of all the calls and mail, I'm taking my talents to _________________."



iball's picture

I think NCAA sanctions are controlled to much by media and public opinions i.e Penn St and UNC. In one case, the issue was clearly not competitive advantage related, but scrutinized and dissected by everyone with a tv or computer in the free world. On the other hand, what happened at UNC barely got mentioned. The NCAA had to act with severity in the PSU scandal or face harsh pulic backlash.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

AndyVance's picture

*ding ding ding*
Gold star for you, Sir, 'cause you are right as right can be.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Yes, and yet the NCAA persists in publicly announcing their absurd, convoluted rationales for why UNC's scandal did not relate to athletic competitive fairness whereas PSU's did.
That's why the NCAA's fundamental mission has been "corrupted" (in the Platonic sense). They cannot articulate a clear conception of what their purpose is and how NCAA policies & enforcements might be expected to promote that purpose.
Meanwhile, the economic fundamentals + other related factors (e.g., Title IX) have contributed to the unsustainability of the traditional 19th c. English notions of "student athlete," yet they continue to try to preserve that model intertwined with the realities of 21st c. major college athletics (football, and to some degree, basketball).
It doesn't matter how smart and/or well-intended Emmert or any of his cronies might be - or how earnestly they pursue "reform" - the corrupt bloated NCAA tanker is chugging against a roaring current and hurricane-force headwind.    

Idaho Helga's picture

The Penn St story was on the CBS/ABC/NBC news at every turn.  Not as a sports story,more like Mante Te'o story.  The NCAA had to do something because this WAS about a football program which is built on "image" and protecting it (=maintaining competitive advantage).  To have done nothing/little when they had doled out severe punishment in tatgate would have totally discredited them as a "ruling body".  
Americans have a nasty gut reaction when seeing clear injustice.  This is why we are all PO'd when we see bank bailouts, automaker bailouts, we'll bail out this wall street group but not that one, The-name-your-bailout-of millionaires-while-I'm-fighting-foreclosure-can't-find-a-job (not being political, but IMHO this is John Doe's feeling anymore). 
Oh, and UNCs situation was mostly swept under the rug.  Curious to see how the Oregon thing turns out.  Don't be surprised for a similar result.  Lots o' Nike contracts out there for member schools of the NCAA.
<--end of rant

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I don't see the rules changes as opening a pandoras box and/or harming smaller schools. 
That coaches will no longer be restricted at any point to contacting recruits via phone, text message or any form of social media: any advantage this might give to aggressive recruiters is likely to have diminishing returns. As Kyle mentioned, some players/parents get fed up with "overbearing coaches" and all the spamming, so if some coaches push it too far, it could come back to bite them.
Moreover, a staff only has so many recruiters and so much time in the day to send out their spam. If they get too excessive with it, they're only confuse their own communications efforts.
The best way to curtail overbearing coaches is if recruits start to cite that as a reason why they chose another school, etc.
The same principle applies to off-campus recruiting.

rdubs's picture

This will probably happen to some extent.  If I were a coach I would put it on the player by saying something like: "I really want you to play at my school, so I want to get a chance to talk to you and get to know you over the next couple of months.  But I also know that you are busy and have work to do in the classroom and on the field.  I don't want to harass you by calling you all of the time, so you let me know how often you want to talk.  You want to talk twice a week or three times a week, great, just let me know what works best."

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Although, to play devil's advocate against my own argument: aggressive recruiting communications ("spam") might be one of those things that's (consciously) annoying, yet (unconsciously) effective. Maybe it's similar to political attack ads - voters claim to hate them, yet they seem to work?

BuckeyeBoyer85's picture

I disagree that the Penn State scandal and coverup was a "non-athletic" issue. Sure It didn't involve student athletes, but I see a clear motive and advantage in keeping this hushed up. The image of the program was protected, and PSU used that image to recruit. 

Wayne Woodrow Hayes

Maestro's picture

Caption that Emmert Pic
"Five dollar foot long"
waiting for the obigatory Greg Oden references

vacuuming sucks

Run_Fido_Run's picture

No, to inspire Greg Oden references, the image would have to look more like this:

Bucksfan's picture

I like it.

There are universities that made investments 100 years ago that, by historical accident in some instances, have set as their role, scope and mission, things that give them competitive advantages in their ability to fund and support athletics....We’re not going to overcome those natural competitive advantages people have.

Probably the most honest statement I have ever heard from the NCAA.  Sounds like my early impressions were right, that this is intended to free up the NCAA from having to deal with secondary infractions.

bukyze's picture


“Michigan has been Michigan for a long time.”

Which means M!c#I&an has sucked for a long time.   And will from here to eternity.

1MechEng's picture

I'm not sure I support some of the proposed recruiting changes. While I think it would benefit Ohio State greatly (imagine: Urban Meyer, Coombs, et al with a 24/7 communication pipeline to a recruit!), I think it might put too much pressure on kids and their families. There would be no downtime to just be kids.
The NCAA isn't looking out for the kids on this one.

AndyVance's picture

Uh, not to sound like a jerk, but when exactly did the NCAA ever "look out for the kids?" I'm having a hard time recalling a single instance where the NCAA did something that wasn't it its own pure self-interest...

buckeyedude's picture

That's something I thought about as well. What if some desperate coach, and you know they're out there, desides to call some kid at 3am on a school day? It's going to happen.



RBuck's picture

I can see it get to the point where recruits and their parents treat coaches like I treat telemarketers.

Long live the southend.

Tengauge's picture

How inconvenient...rather convenient now they botched the Miami case

Idaho Helga's picture

So, for anyone who is on the hot seat or even WARM seat for recruiting violations: Do these new rules make you pretty much forgiven?