Deregulation plans paused … for now

From the moment college football coaches caught wind of the changes outlined -- and passed -- by the NCAA to deregulate recruiting this summer, the proposals were destined for a stormy ride.

The future of that legislation, after the 60-day override period ended Wednesday with the Division I Board of Directors now mandated to review three of the most controversial items, appears cloudy at best.

AP Photo/Tony Ding

Jimbo Fisher was among the first coaches to voice concerns about the NCAA's plans to deregulate recruiting.

I stood outside a conference room at the Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn., during the American Football Coaches Association convention on Jan. 8 after the NCAA used much of a two-hour recruiting seminar to brief coaches on the proposed legislation. As the coaches left that room, many muttered to colleagues about the impractical nature of what they had just been told.

Some refused to speak on the record about the proposals. Those who agreed to comment used measured tones, warning about the dramatic changes on tap if the legislation was enacted on Aug. 1.

Mainly, they expressed concern about their quality of life and the sanity of recruits if the NCAA no longer restricted private electronic communication -- including text messages, banned since 2007.

Later that day in Nashville, respected head coaches Jimbo Fisher of Florida State, David Shaw of Stanford and Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern weighed in on the proposals. They were against the changes. The outcry that followed from the college and high school ranks echoed their sentiments.

Still, 11 days later in Grapevine, Texas, the board of directors passed a package of legislation at the NCAA convention that looked set to bring sweeping changes to recruiting.

It was all part of NCAA president Mark Emmert's plan to focus on rules that make a difference -- to allow enforcement staff to stop counting phone calls.

Just one problem: College coaches need the NCAA to save them from each other. If restrictions in recruiting are removed, you can bet some coach will go too far. And then, everyone's gotta follow.

Hey, if it's within the rules …

Welcome to the world of recruiting excess, featuring a new arms race in which even the richest programs wonder aloud how much is too much.

The NCAA, in passing the proposals, displayed a tone-deaf understanding of its membership.

And now, that membership has spoken. With two proposals -- on the expanded definition of a recruiting coordinator and ungoverned mailings to recruits -- already suspended by the board of directors before the override-request deadline, the big one went down Wednesday.

Proposal 13-3, the rule that would reinstate text messaging and allow coaches to call prospects as often as they desire, was overridden by membership.

It's not dead yet. The board of directors can throw it out. That's unlikely. It can put the proposal to a vote of all 330 Division I schools and require a 62.5 percent majority for dismissal. Or the board of 18 university presidents can revise the rule and try to find enough common ground with the football community that the legislation survives another 60-day override period.

Yes, these rules affect sports other than football. But football dominates the discussion. Football is the reason the override went through on Wednesday.

In men's basketball, the NCAA passed similar deregulation last year. Unlimited phone calls and texts are allowed. It's caused few problems, according to the NCAA.

The intentions of the NCAA were admirable here. Though apparently blind to the unintended consequences of its proposals, it maintained a democratic process.

But football is not basketball. Football is a different animal. I saw it in the eyes of those assistant coaches at the convention in Nashville two months ago.

They looked like they'd just been delivered a harsh sentencing: life with no protection from each other.

It promised a stormy forecast. But relief appears in sight.

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