Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2007 NCAA Convention Recap

Here is a quick recap of the 2007 NCAA Convention, courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I will provide a more detailed review of our four days in Orlando in the next few days.

Steve Ulrich
Executive Director, Centennial Conference

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Controversial Division III Proposals Could Be Harbinger For Changes At All 3 NCAA Levels


Orlando, Fla. -- Two of the biggest stories in college sports in the past year happened at universities that normally do not attract the attention that major-college programs do. During last season's NCAA men's college-basketball tournament, George Mason University made an improbable run to the Final Four. Earlier this month, Boise State University upset the University of Oklahoma, a perennial football powerhouse, in a Bowl Championship Series game.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that on Monday, the last day of the NCAA Convention here, Division III colleges and universities -- the true little guys of college sports -- took center stage.

Division III members debated two controversial measures: one to cap membership, the other to limit the use of male practice players in women's sports.

Members voted to table both proposals, but each measure appears to have legs, both at the Division III level and beyond. Members of Division I and II are also discussing growth issues and whether women's teams should limit the use of male practice players.

In other action on Monday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association voted to:

• Adopt the final "historical" penalties for teams that repeatedly underperform academically. Those penalties will include practice limitations and a ban on postseason play. NCAA officials estimate that, in the spring of 2008, as many as 6 percent of programs -- including up to 20 percent of men's basketball teams -- could lose scholarships under other penalties that are already in place. Last year, just 2 percent of teams lost scholarships.

• Allow Canadian colleges and universities to be considered for NCAA membership. Two Canadian universities have inquired about joining the NCAA.

The Division III proposal to cap membership, introduced by members of the North Coast Athletic Conference, was withdrawn by conference members on Monday, in part to allow a new NCAA working group, made up of individuals from all three NCAA levels, to explore the possibility of creating a fourth NCAA division or a Division III subdivision.

The NCAA has not changed its membership structure since 1973. Many athletics officials believe the association needs to add another division to create more competitive equity across college sports.

"Division III is too large: too unwieldy to be effective, too big to be fair," Douglas C. Bennett, president of Earlham College and a North Coast conference member, told more than 400 fellow Division III members during a legislative session on Monday. He pointed out that because of the division's size, too few teams have access to postseason opportunities, and said "persistent, irresolvable disagreements about philosophy" have proven that the division has too many different kinds of institutions under one umbrella.

A change to the NCAA's structure would most likely have implications for all three divisions, Dan Dutcher, the NCAA's vice president for Division III, said in an interview on Monday.

Among the chief concerns: how to pay for a new membership level. Athletics officials are considering several ways -- raising dues for all NCAA institutions, increasing dues only for those colleges and universities that join a new division, and reallocating revenue from the existing associationwide budget.

Practice-Player Limits
Division III is the only level to have considered formal legislation limiting the use of male practice players on women's teams, but members of all three divisions have discussed the topic in the past year.

On Monday, Division III members recommended further review of the issue, and 15 minutes of lively debate suggested there is a wide spectrum of opinions on the subject.

Jennifer Warmack-Chipman, an assistant director of athletics at Muhlenberg College and a member of the NCAA's Committee on Women's Athletics, told attendees that the committee opposes the use of male practice players, a strategy many women's programs use to improve the skills of top female players. (Teams often bring in men who played in high school who are bigger and faster than second-string women's players.)

The committee believes that the approach impedes female participation, Ms. Warmack-Chipman said, and "reinforces the implied notion of male pre-eminence."

She urged members to ban the practice, saying, "Any action that threatens the quality of participation opportunities for women is a large step backwards."

Many athletes supported the measure, which would restrict teams to using a limited number of male practice players for no more than one practice a week in their traditional season.

"This is not only an equity issue," said Doug Tima, a senior who plays football at Otterbein College and is vice chair of the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. "But we have to ask, Are we doing this for the rights of student-athletes or for competitive advantage?"

Several people, however, supported the continued use of male practice players. Timothy Shea, athletics director at Salem State College, said he was against any institutional limits.

"We oppose any intrusion into the coach's classroom," he said. If members passed this legislation, he said, "how long before we mandate playing time?"

Representatives from all three divisions plan to continue reviewing the issue in coming months.

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