This week the NCAA is set to make sweeping changes to the recruiting regulations that dictate how colleges can engage with prospective student athletes. These shifts will “streamline the NCAA rulebook. The most significant shifts would allow for greater flexibility in recruiting by removing numerous restrictions on timing, frequency and forms of contact between coaches and athletes.”
What I find interesting isn’t so much what the NCAA is doing to recruiting regulations but why they are doing it and what implications will result. It appears there are several driving factors:
- Outdated rules – NCAA President Mark Emmert says, “Some of our rules are counterintuitive, outdated and just unenforceable. They don’t make sense in the world we live in.” As times and technologies change, so too must the rules that regulate them. Makes perfect sense.
- Majoring on the majors – Emmert adds, “We are refocusing on the things that really matter, the threats to integrity, and the biggest issues facing intercollegiate athletics.” Rather than put possible minor violations under a microscope, the NCAA compliance teams will be able to focus on big picture issues. Here’s where the problems come in. This sounds great in theory. But when regulations on what are now minor violations are relaxed, teams will continue to push the limit to see how much they can get away with without getting their hands slapped. So, what is now minor may very well rise to the level of major in just a short period of time.
- Farewell to fairness – This is the one I find most interesting. The working group that crafted this proposed overhaul “set aside the notion of ‘competitive equity,’ a guiding philosophy that sought to place all athletic programs on equal footing, and accepted that colleges with natural advantages – or ‘deeper pockets,’ as the NCAA put it – will use them.” What is particularly interesting about this change is it chafes against our cultural preference for fairness. In an Upwards-basketball style athletic culture where everyone gets a trophy just for participating, isn’t it noteworthy that the NCAA is ending its efforts to level the recruiting playing field?
As a fan of a team who has “deeper pockets,” one part of me favors these changes because they should benefit Texas A&M and other major programs. However, they are likely to have several unintended consequences:
- The rich get richer – Athletic programs with greater financial means will better be able to capitalize on these changes, giving them a competitive advantage over the competition.
- The burnout rate increases – The recruiting cycle is already difficult on both assistant coaches and student athletes. Deregulating communication type and frequency will entail more time demanded on the recruiting process, which will likely lead to faster burnout rates.
- The lack of specificity is unsustainable – Can parents who have spent 10 years developing a detailed internal list of rules for their children all the sudden quit enforcing some of the minor infractions in order to focus on the majors? In other words, if they quit enforcing the small things, will the child simply stop doing them? That’s unlikely on a small scale with children. How much more so with hundreds of colleges playing dozens of sports who are all seeking a competitive advantage.
- The expansion of athletic programs – The race is on. As soon as the NCAA approves these measures, athletic programs will hire additional support staff to take advantage of new opportunities. If you need a job, start preparing your resume for opportunities like “recruiting text message strategist.”
In my role at Southern Seminary, I oversee our Enrollment Management division, including our recruiting and admissions teams. So, I find news like this fascinating. There’s no question that the NCAA rulebook is due for a refresh. But my hope is that they have thought through the possible consequences. As a fan, the great news is that these shifts should only serve to benefit Texas A&M. Only time will tell what the broader impact becomes.