NCAA Likely To Ease Rules On Athlete Earnings

A top governing board of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) last week recommended several changes regarding financial rules affecting amateur athletes.

The proposed rule changes would allow student-athletes to charge fees for lessons, receive free disability insurance from the NCAA, arrange for loans based on future potential earnings and accept grant money for winning Olympic medals.

The NCAA's Division I Management Council approved the rule changes regarding student-athletes last Tuesday, with the changes expected to receive formal approval at the Division I Board of Directors meeting on April 26.

Two of the rule changes are intended to lessen financial restrictions on student-athletes receiving money for sports activities.

One proposal would allow college athletes to charge fees for skill lessons given in the student's sport, while the other would permit student-athletes competing in the Olympics to receive money based on place finish through the Operation Gold Grant fund administered by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Current legislation does not permit student-athletes to receive grants based on place finish in competitions without jeopardizing their collegiate eligibility.

According to Harvard's Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance Sheri D. Norred, the proposed rule changes are intended to help students cover training and travel expenses-not accumulate earnings during college.

"A lot of times these grant funds are used to cover expenses that individuals incur for training for such events, so it's not like students are making money by being able to accept an Operation Gold grant from the U.S. Olympic committee," Norred said.

Norred said that the fees-for-lessons rule change is also subject to restrictions. Students providing instruction would not be permitted to use institutional facilities and could not accept payment from anyone other than lesson recipients.

In addition, the Ivy League currently has a rule that would override the proposed NCAA rule change. The Ivy League forbids student-athletes from working on a fee-for-lessons basis in any sport.

"If this NCAA legislation were to go through, for it to affect Ivy League students, the Ivy League legislation would have to change as well," Norred said.

The two other rule changes approved at the meeting are intended to keep student-athletes with professional potential from being financially influenced by agents and boosters during college.

One proposed change in NCAA regulations would allow students who plan to have a career in professional sports to arrange for loans based on future earnings of up to $20,000 to pay for expenses during college.

"The thinking behind this is it would eliminate some of the problems that elite athletes may incur through boosters or agents offering them money and the draw of money that may be floating around through agent contacts," Norred said.

The other rule change would provide for NCAA payment of student-athlete disability insurance premiums. Agents often target elite athletes who qualify for disability insurance, using the payment of insurance premiums as an inducement for students to become involved with agents.

At last week's meeting, changes were also proposed to men's college basketball scheduling, making preseason tournaments count towards the total number of 29 games teams can play in a season.

Another measure approved would tie scholarship limits to graduation rates, with teams who do not graduate 50 percent of their athletes losing an athletic scholarship from the current limit of 13.

However, players who leave college early for professional leagues would not count against graduation rates if they are in good academic standing at the end of their college career.

The two measures concerning men's basketball are likely to have little to no affect on Harvard, since the University does not grant athletic scholarships and Harvard's men's basketball team does not usually compete in pre-season tournaments.

The council did not approve several still controversial measures affecting athletes not yet enrolled in NCAA institutions, such as allowing entry into professional drafts, letting athletes participate on professional teams for a year before entering college or allowing acceptance of prize money for competition in sporting events. These measures will be reconsidered next fall.

The Ivy League could override any of the proposed rule changes by enacting its own legislation, although any discussions on whether to do so will not take place until the official NCAA approval of the proposed rule changes at the end of the month.

-Staff writer Imtiyaz H. Delawala can be reached at delawala@fas.harvard.edu.