Breakdown of NCAA Division I Rules Changes

One of the key elements of NCAA President Mark Emmert’s reform agenda is the deregulation of the Division I rulebook. The Board of Directors is poised to take its first votes at the NCAA Convention January 19 on a series of proposals designed to make the rules meaningful, enforceable and supportive of student-athlete success.

Over the years, the Division I manual has grown to include rules that many in the membership believe are best left to individual schools and conferences. The Rules Working Group is identifying those rules that are less national in scope and refocusing the rules-making process on a group of commitments that speak to the values and principles of Division I members.

“Some of our rules are counterintuitive, outdated and just unenforceable. They don’t make sense in the world we live in,” Emmert said. “We are refocusing on the things that really matter, the threats to integrity, and the biggest issues facing intercollegiate athletics.”

Emmert emphasized that the goal is to shrink the manual by simplifying rules and focusing on student-athlete well-being . The following Q&A provides more details on the deregulation effort:

Why is the NCAA changing its rules?

The goal of deregulation is to protect and enhance the student-athlete experience, shift the regulatory focus from competitive equity to fair competition and allow schools to use the natural advantages of geography, a talented student-athlete or deeper pockets. Over time, the rulebook has expanded to include rules designed to limit those things. The deregulation effort hopes to shift the focus from limiting the advantages of individual schools to making sure all schools compete within the framework of the collegiate model, in which athletics competition is an integral part of the student-athlete’s education.

Why focus on fairness of competition instead of competitive equity?

The current justification for rules as creating a level playing field has produced too many rules that are not meaningful, enforceable or contributory to student-athlete success. The shift to a fair competition model acknowledges that natural advantages exist between campuses that cannot – and should not – be regulated. The changes are intended to better define what fairness means in terms of eligible student-athletes, scholarships, the length of the playing and recruiting seasons, and the number of coaches. Ultimately, retaining the current rules will not impede the competitive shift.

Why rely more on campus-level policies and procedures than rules for everybody in Division I?

The Rules Working Group recognizes that some schools will be pressured to adopt policies and procedures to not place their program at a competitive disadvantage. The new rulebook would require that policies be in place in specified areas, that they address key components or campus values and that they will be followed. NCAA violations would occur if policies are not developed or followed.

When will the rulebook be reduced in size?

The deregulation process will begin this month, when the Board of Directors votes on the first round of proposals to come from the Rules Working Group. These proposals will make major changes in the way the NCAA views personnel, amateurism, recruiting and benefits for student-athletes. The working group will have a second round of concepts for membership feedback and review this spring.  The result of these efforts may not necessarily be a significant smaller rulebook, but the rules will be vastly more meaningful and enforceable.

Why does the NCAA have to do it this way?

The NCAA is a membership organization. The Division I membership includes 346 schools and 31 conferences, representing a divergent group of missions, resource levels, public profile and student populations.  Preserving this diversity is important to leaders within the division, and in order to do that, the working group strives to build consensus around its approach and the ultimate proposals it recommends to the Board for adoption.

How will the NCAA make sure the rulebook doesn’t get back to the way it was?

Part of the Rules Working Group’s goal is to develop a process by which each new piece of proposed legislation must pass a three-part test of being meaningful, enforceable and supportive of student-athlete success. The working group is taking this charge seriously and is in the early stages of developing a new process for rules-making.

What if some of the deregulation turns out to have unforeseen consequences?

The working group has proposed a two-year period in which the membership can digest the new rules. After that period, if some areas are identified in which the working group went too far toward deregulation – or didn’t go far enough – changes will be considered.