Thursday, February 23, 2012

I’m Begging You for Mercy

As the hit song by Duffy goes:

You got me beggin' you for mercy
Why won't you release me
You got me beggin' you for mercy
Why won't you release me
I said release me

Deep in the middle of the 426 pages that comprise the 2011-12 NCAA Division I Manual is Bylaw entitled “Contacts & Evaluations: Four –Year College Prospective Student-Athletes” which reads:

“An athletics staff member…shall not make contact with the student-athlete of another NCAA collegiate institution…without first obtaining the written permission of the first institution’s athletics director to do so…regardless of who makes the initial contact.”

The result is that while coaches are free to enjoy free agency and jump from school to school at will, a student-athlete needs permission from his or her school’s athletic department before a conversation with another school is allowed.

If the request for contact under Bylaw is granted, the student-athlete may transfer, accept a scholarship, and compete immediately. If the request is denied, the student-athlete is free to transfer to another institution but must do so without any contact with the athletic department or any form of athletic scholarship. After transferring, after one calendar year the student-athlete may accept a scholarship and compete.

Additionally, further restrictions are placed on individuals in the sports of baseball, basketball, football, and men’s ice hockey in Bylaw entitled “One-Time Transfer Exception.” Under this rule, even if a student-athlete is granted permission to transfer, they must sit one year before being able to compete in these sports unless granted an additional release from his or her initial institution. Permission is therefore required for an immediate scholarship and the right to compete—the problem is that this permission is often withheld and the process to challenge a denial flawed.

These restrictions are intended to curtail the free movement of student-athletes. Typically, schools allow their student-athletes the ability to compete immediately if the transfer is based on personal hardship (returning home to care for a sick relative) or if the student-athlete has graduated and intends to pursue graduate work at a school that offers graduate coursework in a field that the initial school does not.

The basic concept, rooted deep into the NCAA rules and codified in the National Letter of Intent (NLI) that every student-athlete signs, is that the student commits to an institution not a coach. While coaches may make promises about building something together and partnership for the future with a recruited student-athlete, when recruiting a student-athletes these promises are, under the NCAA rules, unenforceable and irrelevant.

Undoubtedly written by lawyers, there is a semblance of due process in both transfer bylaws which provides a student-athlete, denied the transfer request by his or her institution, the right to a hearing. The rules read, in part, that the student-athlete may be “provided a hearing conducted by an institutional entity or committee outside of the athletic department.”

To summarize: the NCAA rules, written by schools claiming to protect the best interests of student-athletes, allow coaches to move about at will but student-athletes need permission to do so. Certainly schools may limit coaching movement by attempting to enforce employment contracts but there has been limited success in the court system in this regard.

For three recent examples (The University of Maryland, Kansas University, and Saint Joseph's University) along with my recommendations, check out the full article at the Huffington Post.