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Boosters Could Pay Coaches Directly Under NCAA Proposal

Boosters would be allowed to contribute directly to the compensation of coaches, potentially controlling more of the terms under which coaches are paid, if a new NCAA proposal is adopted.

Under the plan, described in a 12-page NCAA document obtained by The Chronicle, boosters could come up with their own bonuses instead of giving their money to the athletic department and hoping that they would have the influence to get it written into a coach’s contract, one NCAA rules expert says.

Such a move, which would have to be approved by universities, could prove problematic if a booster gained too much control and later committed NCAA violations.

The idea—to be presented on Thursday to the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors—is part of a broad set of proposals designed to give campuses more autonomy over athletics and to streamline the NCAA’s vast rule book.

The plan calls for removing numerous recruiting restrictions and making it more acceptable for prospects to earn money without losing their NCAA eligibility. The changes would give athletics staff members who aren’t coaches the opportunity to help recruit athletes and let entire coaching staffs go on the road to recruit at the same time, if they so chose. (NCAA rules now limit who and how many people can be involved in the recruiting process.)

In addition, the plan would allow coaches in any sport to send unlimited text messages to recruits during certain periods, have closer access to prospects on Facebook and other social networks, and talk about players publicly during their recruitment.

The plan also calls for more flexible recruiting calendars and fewer restrictions governing official visits.

One of the biggest proposed changes could be a philosophical one, as the NCAA recognizes that a guiding principle of its rules—competitive equity—may no longer be a priority.

“The playing field is not and has never been and never will be level,” said James F. Barker, president of Clemson University and chair of the NCAA working group that came up with the proposed changes. “To say the NCAA should try to create a level playing field is impossible and is not a wise path to take.”

That shift worries some coaches and athletics officials.

“I do not know if the proverbial ‘level playing field’ can ever be had,” Bill Zack, head women’s rowing coach at the University of Portland and president of the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association, wrote to the working group through an NCAA feedback form. “But I think it is problematic to outright acknowledge that it is OK to have institutional financial advantage.

“I think the NCAA needs to protect its own members from engaging in financial warfare,” he added.

One of the group’s more substantive changes could give colleges the autonomy to establish their own policies to govern contracts and compensation from sources outside of the institution.

Coaches are already allowed to sign endorsement deals with companies. But an NCAA rule prohibits them from taking money earmarked by boosters to supplement their pay. Colleges can choose to use such payments for coaches’ bonuses or other compensation, but they must make those decisions on their own.

The working group has proposed eliminating that rule, a move that could lead boosters to increase the money they contribute. The idea was to bring compensation policies in athletics more in line with the rest of the university, said one member of Mr. Barker’s working group. Faculty members, for example, are already permitted to take money from outside sources.

The change could help relieve colleges financially, as they shoulder the vast majority of the costs of paying coaches. But the change could cause problems if boosters gained too much control with their money and then committed NCAA violations. If that happened, the NCAA could find a college guilty of a lack of institutional control.

The NCAA’s Division I board is not expected to vote on the proposals until at least October, Mr. Barker said. But he hopes to receive the board’s support for many of the ideas at this week’s meeting.

For more on this story, see our full report here, which includes the 12-page proposal and a 372-page document highlighting NCAA member feedback on the plans.

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