Coaches’ Group Calls for More Teams in Proposed Elite NCAA Division

If the wealthiest athletics departments do as they have suggested and form a separate NCAA subdivision to have more say over rules and regulations at the highest level, they should be required to support more teams and add opportunities for students, according to a new proposal.

A group of 12 Division I coaches’ associations in such sports as soccer, volleyball, and swimming is urging the NCAA to increase the number of sports and the amount of financial aid a university would have to offer if it sought to join any new “super division” comprising the most-powerful institutions.

The proposal comes as athletics directors, conference commissioners, and others plan to gather on Tuesday in Indianapolis to discuss ideas for improving the NCAA’s Division I governance structure.

The coaches’ group—which says it represents 50 percent of the nonfootball and nonbasketball coaches working in Division I—wants the NCAA to raise the minimum number of sports that an institution joining any elite new subdivision would have to sponsor, to 24, including 10 men’s teams. The biggest Division I programs now must sponsor a minimum of 16 sports.

The coaches’ associations—which also represent teams in softball, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, water polo, and wrestling—also want Division I programs to more fully support the teams they have.

The group’s proposal would require institutions to provide teams with a minimum of 60 percent of funds based on NCAA financial-aid limits. Many programs already back the full amount of scholarships allowed, but plenty of teams do not, creating a competitive imbalance across the division.

“Competitive equity has become a four-letter word in this debate,” said Kathleen J. DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, which supports the proposal. “That’s a bitter pill coaches have to swallow—for someone to say we’re sponsoring all these sports, but you really don’t have a chance.”

Coaches understand that a level playing field is elusive, Ms. DeBoer said. “Yet the idea that you have a sport and you should invest enough in it so that the coach and the student-athletes have a chance is not a concept we think is foreign.”

Increasing the minimum number of sports to 24 would represent a 50-percent increase over what is now required. That figure, the proposal says, is roughly proportional to the median amount by which the budgets of the biggest programs are larger than those in the rest of Division I.

Such an increase would also financially link intercollegiate athletics at the most-elite institutions more closely with their nonprofit missions, the proposal says. That mission includes supporting broad-based programs.

“While it might seem counterintuitive to attempt to control expenditures by mandating growth, in this case it is one of the few legal ways to achieve cost control,” the coaches’ proposal says. “Prudent decision-making is built into the structure by funding requirements.”

The coaches’ group is not wedded to a 24-sport minimum or a 60-percent financial-support requirement, the proposal says. “But we are wedded to more opportunities for student-athletes at the highest levels of Division I if there is going to be another segmentation,” Ms. DeBoer said.

In addition to those proposals, the coaches’ associations want to be more integrated into the NCAA governance structure through formalized “communication partnerships” with member institutions, conferences, and NCAA staff members. Coaches also want the ability to push through noncontroversial rule changes or other sport-specific matters without going through the traditional NCAA legislative cycle.

“As a coaches’ association, we feel more like we’re the fire department chasing elusive fires than a construction company working to build,” said Rob Kehoe, director of college programs for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, which also signed the proposal. “By the time things get into the legislative pipeline, all we have the opportunity to do is react to them.

“As representatives of coaches, and on behalf of students, we want to be on the inside,” he added. “We want to be part of the construction.”

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