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College Athletics

Ncaa Rules And Regulations

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began with a meeting called by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in October 1905. In attendance were the presidents and football coaches of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton Universities. Roosevelt sought, among other things, effective regulation of college football, which in 1905 had seen eighteen deaths on the gridirons of the relatively few institutions fielding teams to play the still new and already popular sport. The meeting resulted in rules changes in football and a meeting of a group of college presidents that would become the thirty-eight-member NCAA in 1906. By 2002 the voluntary association of more than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities governed intercollegiate athletics competition in more than fifty sports for both men and women.

The NCAA rules govern specific games, the conditions for institutional participation in the NCAA and its sanctioned leagues and championships, the recruitment and participation of individual student athletes, and the consequences for breaching NCAA rules. The NCAA Manual, which is updated for each of the three divisions annually (and four times per year online), encompasses the rules for which member institutions and individuals are accountable. By 2002 the manual had expanded to more than 500 pages as new rules continue to be legislated and old ones revised or reinterpreted.

As of February 2002 the NCAA had thirty institutions on probation for major rules infractions (those providing an extensive recruiting or competitive advantage, reflecting a general disregard for the governing rules, or for recurring violations). In 2000, when twelve institutions were sanctioned for major infractions, the NCAA processed to completion a total of 2,024 cases involving secondary infractions, an infraction defined as "isolated or inadvertent in nature, provides or is intended to provide only a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage, and does not include any significant recruiting inducement or extra benefit" (p.311).

The number and complexity of NCAA rules, and the possible consequences associated with their violation, have led most Division I institutions to employ at least one full-time professional staff member and to establish an institution-wide infrastructure solely devoted to assuring up-to-date knowledge and compliance with NCAA rules. Further, the aspiring student athlete must attend to the rules as early as the ninth grade to be sure to achieve the necessary high school course work required to meet NCAA eligibility requirements.

Source, Structure, and Scope of NCAA Rules

The regulations for the governance of NCAA-sponsored intercollegiate athletics are encompassed in the NCAA Manual within thirty-three articles, which are organized in three sections: (1) the "Constitution," which covers the principles for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics that provide the framework within which all subsequent rules must fit; (2) "Operating Bylaws," which consist of principles and specific rules promoting the principles defined in the constitution; and (3) "Administrative Bylaws," which define policies and procedures to implement legislative actions of the association, NCAA championships, association business, the enforcement program, and the athletics certification program. Most rules and rule changes originate with recommendations from a number of internal committees, including the committee on infractions and the management council–a representative group of institutional and league athletics and faculty representatives of the specific division for revisions to the bylaws. However, depending on the nature of the proposed rule or revision, authority for rules and amendments may be delegated to the committee or may require approval beyond the management council.

The constitution provides a framework and defines limits for all subsequent regulations and future legislation. At its base is a two-part fundamental policy addressing the principle of amateurism, which is meant to assure that athletics is an integral part of the educational program, and the athlete is an integral part of the student body, thus establishing a "clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports" (NCAA, p. 1). The second part of the policy addresses the individual and collective responsibilities of member institutions to apply and enforce legislation to assure competitive equity, including "basic athletics issues such as admissions, financial aid, eligibility and recruiting" (NCAA, p. 1). Beyond the fundamental policy and purpose of the organization, the constitution includes five additional articles addressing the conduct of intercollegiate athletics, NCAA membership, organizational structure, legislative authority and process, and institutional control of intercollegiate athletics. The constitution designates the chief executive officer of the institution (rather than the athletic director) as ultimately responsible "for the conduct of the intercollegiate athletics program and the actions of any board in control of that program" (NCAA, p. 49). This responsibility is reinforced in the requirement that budgetary control falls to the institution within the realm of its normal budgetary procedures. The Constitution also spells out procedures for self-study and analysis to occur as part of a regular athletic certification process. Perhaps most important, this section of the constitution spells out the institution's responsibility for the acts of its staff members and any other individuals or agencies promoting the interests of the institution's intercollegiate athletics program.

The second article of the constitution contains principles for conduct of intercollegiate athletics, which anchor rules affecting prospective and current student athletes and institutions. The principle of student-athlete welfare, for example, requires athletic programs to protect and enhance the physical and educational welfare of student athletes. It requires an environment for the student athlete that: (1) is well integrated with the overall educational experience,(2) values cultural diversity and gender equity, (3) is healthy and safe, (4) fosters a positive relationship between the student athlete and coach, (5) exhibits fair, open, and honest relationships on the part of coaches and administrators towards student athletes, and (6) involves student athletes in matters affecting their lives. Other principles for the conduct of inter-collegiate athletics include gender equity, sportsmanship and ethical conduct, sound academic standards, nondiscrimination, diversity within governance, rules compliance, amateurism, competitive equity, recruiting, eligibility, financial aid, playing and practice seasons, postseason competition and contests sponsored by noncollegiate organizations, and the economy of athletic program operations. Each principle, briefly defined in the constitution, provides the philosophical basis for extensive and often complex subsequent rules in the operating and administrative bylaws.

The operating bylaws address ethical conduct (including gambling and the use of banned substances), conduct and employment of athletics personnel, amateurism, recruiting of student athletes, academic and general eligibility requirements, financial aid, conditions affecting awards, benefits and expenses for enrolled student athletes, the conditions and limitations of playing and practice seasons, championships and postseason football, enforcement, division membership, committees, and certification for institutional athletic programs. The administrative bylaws address rules in the governance of athletic programs, executive regulations, enforcement policies and procedures, and the policies and procedures governing the NCAA athletics certification program.

NCAA Eligibility Requirements

Imagine Sally Jones, a ninth grader who loves basketball. She knows that she wants to play college basketball, and therefore will try to do whatever is required to meet the admission requirements of her state university. In addition, perhaps unknown to Sally and her parents, she must also satisfy NCAA requirements and procedures in order to be eligible to compete in her first year in college.

The NCAA constitutional principle regarding eligibility specifies that "eligibility requirements shall be designed to assure proper emphasis on educational objectives, to promote competitive equity among institutions and to prevent exploitation of student-athletes" (NCAA, p. 5). It is designed to assure that when Sally gets to college she will be treated as a student first, and not simply as a commodity.

The subsequent bylaw related to eligibility, however, consists of thirty-seven pages in the Division IManual detailing the conditions a student athlete must meet in order to be eligible to compete in athletics competition at a given institution. The rules related to initial eligibility are sufficiently complex that Sally and all other applicants must use an initialeligibility clearinghouse contracted by the NCAA (in 2002 the contract was held by the American College Testing Service) to validate the information on which the initial eligibility determination is based. First, in order to qualify for eligibility, Sally will need to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements in a set of thirteen designated core academic courses taken in high school. An index based on varying combinations of GPA and test scores on either the SAT or the ACT will determine the minimum that must be satisfied in each area. For example, if the core GPA is 2.0 (the lowest permissible for a qualifier), then the combined verbal/math score on the SAT would need to be at least 1010. If Sally's GPA in the academic core courses is 2.5 or higher, she will be allowed an SAT score as low as 820 to qualify for athletics financial aid, practice, and competition. If she is unable to meet these criteria, she might be able to be a partial qualifier,–a student who meets an index involving GPAs starting at 2.525 and going to 2.750 and above to balance SAT scores as low as 720. Partial qualifiers and nonqualifiers may attend the institution if accepted through normal channels, but they may not participate in the first year in intercollegiate athletics practice or competition (including club sports).

NCAA rules will dictate the maximum number of official campus visits Sally may make; when, how often, and under what conditions she may be contacted by coaching staff; conditions for campus visits, including where she may eat and under what conditions costs will be covered for her parents if they accompany her. If admitted, there will be conditions on summer school attendance and summer sport participation, when she must declare a major, the number of courses she must take to remain eligible, and permissible sources of financial support as she pursues her degree. Once on campus, her coaches will be responsible for certain rules, including when, how often, and for how long the team practices, and the number of contests in which she will participate. Violations of the rules could adversely affect both individuals and the institution.


Institutions typically self-report to the NCAA in the event they have reason to believe a violation of an NCAA rule has occurred. Information may also come through other channels such as opposing coaches or members of the public. In the case of a secondary violation, the institution prepares a report on the situation, including corrective or disciplinary actions taken, if any. The NCAA Secondary Violation Penalty Schedule provides guidance for penalties for inadvertent secondary violations. For example, if basketball, football, or women's volleyball coaching staff members attended an opponent's contest, violating the regulation generally prohibiting in-person scouting of an opponent in these sports, the employing institution should issue a letter of reprimand to the involved coaching staff members. Many recruiting violations would necessitate the institution to issue a letter of admonishment to involved staff members, with notice that repeat violations will be forwarded to the NCAA for evaluation and imposition of appropriate recruiting restrictions on the institution. Examples of such violations include sending video materials to a prospect, placing institutional advertising in a high school game program or recruiting publication, failure to notify a prospect in writing of the five-visit limitation prior to a visit, providing a campus visit prior to receiving the prospect's test scores and/or transcript, allowing a media representative to be present during a recruiting contact by a coach, publicizing a prospect's campus visit, and putting a prospect's name on the scoreboard.

Major infractions involve an in-depth investigation process in cooperation with the institution. Major infractions may warrant penalties such as forfeiture of games involving ineligible players, probation, limiting television coverage, termination of responsible staff, dissociation of representatives of athletic interests, reduction of allowable grants-inaid, financial penalties, and, in the worst case, effectively suspending an athletic program for a given period of time. Some examples of major infractions include providing extra benefits to student athletes or recruits, falsification of recruiting records, unethical conduct (including academic fraud), impermissible recruiting inducements, lack of institutional control and failure to monitor its athletic programs, provision of false and misleading information, hiring irregularities, fraudulent entrance examinations, impermissible observation of preseason activities, and impermissible tryouts.


The NCAA compliance effort is a well-intended attempt to respond to concerns related to ethics, commercialism, academic integrity, amateurism, exploitation of student athletes, racial equity and gender equity, disability accommodation, and other issues. An approach to ethical concerns based in legislated rules has perhaps created a structure so complex that it loses sight of the initial objective, and has, in turn, generated new concerns. The structure of NCAA rules continues to be challenged through the NCAA. The rules have also been challenged in the courts, including, for example, cases related to alleged racial discrimination in the use of test scores in initial eligibility determination, disability discrimination in disallowing test scores taken with accommodation for students with disabilities, anti-trust questions for denying access to prospective student-athletes, and for limiting salaries for restricted earnings coaches. Such coaches, prior to the court's prohibition as a result of this case, were limited by NCAA rules to a specific salary cap usually equivalent to a part-time salary even though they were employees of the hiring college or university. Others raise concerns about an athletic association determining academic policy at both the high school and college level. Time, however, will tell whether NCAA and member efforts to revise the rules structure will allow benefits from the order and ethical foundation provided by NCAA rules, while also simplifying the rules to reduce the volume of unintended violations. As the NCAA seeks to liberalize rules related to amateurism, it is useful to consider historian John Thelin's observation that "the initial impulse in each era was to deplore the illegal and unethical activities in college sports, then to proceed to make them legal. If there is an epitaph for the demise of educationally sound athletic programs on the American campus, it will read: 'the rules were unenforceable"' (Thelin, p. 222).


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NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION.2001. 2001-2002 NCAA Manual (for Divisions I, II, and II). Indianapolis, IN: National Collegiate Athletic Association. <www.ncaa.org/library/membership.html#manuals>


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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comEducation Encyclopedia: Classroom Management - Creating a Learning Environment to Association for Science Education (ASE)College Athletics - History Of Athletics In U.s. Colleges And Universities, Academic Support Systems For Athletes - THE ROLE AND SCOPE OF INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS IN U.S. COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES