by

5 Things to Watch at This Week’s NCAA Convention

The NCAA’s annual convention tips off on Wednesday in Grapevine, Tex. I reached out to a handful of people to see what they’re keeping an eye on at this year’s gathering. Here are five issues they flagged:

1. The $2,000 stipend. A year after colleges overturned an NCAA policy allowing institutions to provide up to $2,000 more to help full-scholarship athletes meet their full cost of attendance, there appears to be renewed energy in this debate.

NCAA leaders have floated three new proposals, and they hope to hear more ideas during the convention, said Sidney A. McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State University and chair of an NCAA working group focused on the issue.

The new plans—described in detail in this NCAA document—include a need-based proposal and others that would give institutions more flexibility in how they might award the money.

One concern I’ve heard: Two of the plans would do little to help the financially neediest of Division I athletes, as the proposals would include players’ Pell Grants in calculating what they would receive toward the cost of attendance.

“If the idea is to get more money to the student-athletes in high-profile sports who come from financially deficient backgrounds, that’s not going to happen,” Ryan Squire, associate athletics director for compliance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told me last week.

Mr. McPhee said that the ideas were part of a “very preliminary draft” and that his group had not had time to adequately work through how many Pell Grant students would be eligible for the stipend under the different proposals. He plans to bring in a set of financial-aid experts in part to help figure that out.

After gathering more input from NCAA colleges in coming months, Mr. McPhee and his team hope to submit a draft set of recommendations to the Division I Leadership Council by April, with likely review by the Division I Board of Directors in August.

2. Recruiting changes. The Division I board will consider 28 proposals at this week’s meeting. Two of the more interesting ones, both of which are likely to be approved, involve recruiting changes in big-time sports. One plan would give coaches earlier access to prospects (after July 1 of their sophomore year). The other would wipe out many of the restrictions on coaches’ contacting athletes through telephone calls and electronic messages.

Expect strong pushback on the latter proposal, said John Infante, a former compliance officer at Colorado State University. Erasing restrictions on contact “raises serious concerns about big advantages for richer schools,” he wrote on Athnet, a blog about college sports recruiting.

The idea also doesn’t sit well with coaches, who appreciate the dead periods when they don’t have to stroke the egos of 17-year-olds.

3. Cleaning up the transfer problem. As increasing numbers of big-time basketball and football players attempt to transfer from one college to another—a complex issue that came to a head last summer, when several coaches blocked athletes from leaving their teams—the NCAA has proposed some early-stage ideas for fixing the problem.

It’s unclear whether this would ever pass muster, but one idea under consideration would allow players with a 2.6 grade-point average to transfer without having to sit out a season of competition. Such a change, as well as others under consideration, would give players more rights and could lead to better outcomes for both players and coaches.

Any vote to change the transfer rules is unlikely to happen until August. And assuming the board adopts the proposal, you can bet that athletic departments won’t be lining up to support it.

4. Focus on medical liability. During the annual meeting of Division I-A athletic directors, in September, four different sessions touched on how colleges handle concussions and where that complex debate is headed. If that isn’t the most pressing issue in college sports right now (or all of sports, for that matter), I’d like to know what is.

To deal with that issue and other important medical concerns in sports, the NCAA recently hired Brian Hainline, a neurologist who starts this month as the association’s first chief medical officer.

Dr. Hainline will create a new center of excellence at the NCAA to provide safety, health, and medical expertise and research for physicians and athletic trainers across the country. He also will oversee all athlete health and safety initiatives and coordinate with the NCAA’s main sports-medicine panel, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.

“Our collective goal is nothing short of a societal shift—for our country to think about the health and well-being for student-athletes from grade school to high school to college and beyond,” Dr. Hainline said in an October news release.

5. Expanded membership. The vast majority of NCAA members are American colleges and universities. But an increasing number of institutions outside the United States appear to be interested in joining the club. Division II is considering a proposal that would extend a pilot program for international membership to colleges in Mexico. With the NFL, NBA, and other leagues considering overseas expansion, is it only a matter of time until that happens more in college sports?

Return to Top