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Experts’ Roundtable: Compliance

By Maggie McKinley, Tricia Turley Bradenburg, Bryan Blair
11 min read
If you and/or your head coaches see the graduate transfer landscape as problematic, what are some realistic solutions given current voting dynamics and implementation challenges?


Maggie McKinley – Cincinnati (Executive Senior Associate AD/SWA): If the graduate transfer landscape is seen as problematic in the sense that graduate transfers are not, statistically speaking, completing the graduate degree/program at their new institution, one potential solution would be expanding the NCAA Degree Completion award to graduate students to finish their programs. For student-athletes that have exhausted their eligibility, this would provide those who desire to finish their degree program a financial opportunity to cover the cost of tuition and fees, just as it does for undergraduates. The desire to finish is the key implementation challenge, there is nothing we as a membership can legislate that can change a person’s desire to finish a postgraduate degree program, especially when the person has the ability to pursue a career within their field with an undergraduate degree.


From a different perspective, if the concern is graduate transfers are leaving their undergraduate institutions to finish their eligibility at another institution, then I wonder why undergraduates serving a year in residence lessens the concern when the hope is that each type of transfer is seeking an opportunity to flourish in a different environment. I do not see the graduate transfer landscape as any more problematic than the undergraduate transfer landscape, but I also understand where some coaches are coming from with their concerns over the often unexpected departure of a student-athlete that they have developed for three or four years. The current legislation was written in a manner that one parameter specifically addresses that the graduate student-athlete has had their aid non-renewed for the subsequent year – thus a lost opportunity to continue on aid, and likely continue on the team. Using the legislation as it was intended to be used would be a solution. Adding the ability for a graduate student-athlete who did not meet the parameters to be eligible for competition after serving a year in residence with a clock extension, if necessary, would be a supplemental solution, although not one that I would think would eliminate graduate transfers.


Side note: Before taking legislative action that would change eligibility requirements for graduate student-athletes to encourage completion of the program, we should ask ourselves if we as a membership want to transition from past rationale centering on enhancing the ability to earn an undergraduate degree in a five-year period to earning an undergraduate and graduate degree within a five-year (or six-year) period. Thinking back to rationale statements in proposals related to progress towards degree benchmarks, permissible legislation related to summer school aid prior to initial enrollment and participation by student-athletes in summer CARA, there was a common theme. That common theme centered on fulfilling necessary academic commitments towards graduation from a four-year degree program. Is there or could there be unintended consequences for our high-achieving student-athletes who are finishing their undergraduate degrees prior to exhausting their four years of eligibility who want to continue participation at another institution? We’ve increased opportunities to finish an undergraduate degree and now that student-athletes are graduating at a higher rate, and still want to continue participation at another institution, we are sitting around tables discussing this as if it’s a problem. Reward them, do not penalize them for their achievement.


Tricia Turley Brandenburg – Towson (Deputy AD/SWA): There are two significant issues related to the graduate transfer landscape: degree completion and poaching. In terms of degree completion, we have been fortunate here at Towson to have had 100 percent of our graduate basketball student-athlete transfers complete their graduate degrees here at Towson with two summers and the academic year, so we do not have the same issues as seen at other institutions in terms of degree completion. I do, however, believe that there should be more at stake with APR, particularly with the impending Values Based Revenue Distribution, related to graduate transfers and degree completion. If there is both a monetary (Values Based Revenue Distribution) and post-season risk (APR) associated with graduate transfers, I believe coaches and institutions would evaluate that risk more cautiously and make decisions that better promote student-athlete well-being, which could also limit the poaching concerns. Additionally, in regards to poaching, we need to enforce our existing rules and consider updating the contact rule to include all individuals associated with a prospect (e.g., high school, AAU coaches).


Bryan Blair – Rice (Senior Associate AD for Sport Administration & Compliance): Feelings toward the graduate transfer exception are generally a matter of perspective. A coach losing their top point guard due to the exception feels drastically different than a student-athlete who wants to attend a specific graduate school because of their area of focus, etc. I believe we should celebrate our student-athletes obtaining degrees. I’m not oblivious to the abuses of this rule and the statistics on these transfers actually graduating, but in some ways, we (NCAA membership) created this epidemic. Student-athletes attend summer school at a higher rate than ever and, as a result, many finish their degrees faster than ever. I think one solution is to re-evaluate the legislation around summer school and required practice. Could this time be better spent gaining real-world experience through summer internships, study abroad, etc., to give our student-athletes a scholastic experience more similar to their general student counterparts? Many student-athletes, especially in the sports of football and basketball, practice and attend school year round. There are many other solutions that have been discussed regarding this rule, but I think we should focus on finding ways to enrich their current student-athlete experience, better preparing them for life after sports.


Athletic time demands for student-athletes continues to be a major point of discussion around the industry. What is one improvement example within your department or league that you believe will be beneficial to achieve greater balance for student-athletes?


McKinley (Cincinnati): Our athletic department is working on a department-wide calendar system. Many of our teams use apps/software for scheduling and we found that when units within the department were scheduling meetings, activities, etc, staff members were often unaware of what else was already on the docket for teams or individual student-athletes. This simple concept should provide our student-athletes a clear picture of required activities throughout the year and also ensure we as a department are not overloading certain days/weeks/months/semesters. Based upon this and many discussions with our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, we have already started a practice of avoiding the scheduling of required, non-countable activities on off-days this academic year.


Turley Brandenburg (Towson): Some of the concerns related to time demands can be legislated on a national level, but many concerns can be addressed on the local level and that starts with communicating with student-athletes about their specific issues. In talking with our student-athletes, one of their biggest concerns is changes to the schedule or schedules that are communicated last minute. This inhibits their ability to participate in group projects, meet with faculty members, work part-time jobs and just generally engage as a student on our campus. We are currently working with our Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) on how we can begin to address this and other issues related to time demands.

Time demands are not just about reducing the time spent on athletics, but also increasing the time student-athletes can be students. One other initiative we’ve started working on is collaborating with our Study Abroad office to inform our student-athletes of more modern, non-traditional study abroad options that may fit better with their commitment to their athletic schedule. We have several faculty members who are teaching classes, mostly over winter break and summer, that involve an online or traditional classroom instruction with a 1-2 week study abroad option. Over the past year, we’ve had student-athletes study abroad in Cuba and Greece and have a football student-athlete traveling to the Dominican Republic this January.


Blair (Rice): At Rice, we have had many discussions about time demands as our student-athletes balance Division I athletics with academics at a top tier institution. You cannot separate the pressures brought on by either role. Our coaches understand that missing too much class or not having enough time to study negatively impacts our student-athletes’ athletics performance. Our student-athletes care deeply about their academics and if they are not performing well in the classroom, we will often see that effect on the playing surface. We are very cognizant of these competing demands and constantly searching for the proper balance in all we do.


Conference USA has been a leader in this regard by implementing several changes designed to help student-athletes with their time management. We have a mandatory two-week discretionary period following the completion of a team’s season when there can be no required athletic-related activities. Also, C-USA member institutions are required to conduct a time-management session for all incoming student-athletes. These two steps were a great start allowing us to be at the forefront of the national changes likely coming based on many of the current legislative proposals.


If you had complete control over the Academic Progress Rate, what’s the first thing you would change?


McKinley (Cincinnati): If I had complete control over the Academic Progress Rate, the first thing I would change would be the cohort definition, specifically, the new definition would state student-athletes who have earned an undergraduate degree would be excluded from inclusion. At the time of earning a BA/BS, they have met one of the purposes of the APR – student-athletes earning a four-year degree. If I were permitted another APR change, I would change the application of the delayed graduation point. Rather than apply the delayed graduation point to the year in which the former cohort member graduates, I would retroactively apply the delayed graduation point to the year in which the point was lost if that year is within the multiyear report. If the lost point occurred outside the previous four years, the institution could apply it as the policy currently dictates.


Turley Brandenburg (Towson): As I mentioned in my earlier answer related to the graduate transfer landscape, the one change I would make to APR is to make schools accountable for academic success and degree completion for graduate student transfers.  The Committee on Academics addressed many of my other concerns earlier this semester by creating an APR adjustment for transfers to two-year colleges and eliminating the requirement that a student-athlete spend a year in residence for an institution to be eligible to receive an adjustment.  Since we’ve increased our communication related to APR here at Towson over the last few years, we’ve seen our APR numbers steadily climb.  That climb has been a result of being intentional in monitoring academically at-risk student-athletes and having better conversations in the recruiting process, and not as a result of manipulating eligibility requirements.


Blair (Rice): I fully agree with the intent of APR as it holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes. However, one of the concerns I currently have is the unintended consequences of monetarily incentivizing higher scores. As coaches, staff and institutions receive financial compensation for reaching certain APR benchmarks, the pressure mounts on staffs to make sure student-athletes remain eligible. My fear is we will continue to see more cases of academic misconduct, more clustering of majors, and less student-athletes challenging themselves by exploring various courses and/or majors. My hope would be that we find a way to incentivize recruiting the right student-athletes who can be successful at our institutions and less on which majors they chose, or the size of an academic support staff.

This is a bit like predicting the future, but what positive & negative unintended consequences could come from an early signing period for Football? 


McKinley (Cincinnati): Some examples of positive consequences that could result from an early signing period would be the prospective student-athlete who is firmly committed to an institution could be granted relief from the intensity of the recruiting process leading into and during his senior year. It could allow the PSA to enjoy his senior season and year in high school without coaches trying to flip his commitment. It could also protect the PSA in the event of an injury during the senior year. It may also allow college coaches to narrow their focus on a smaller number of remaining recruits and spend more time on-campus with current student-athletes. The amount of time coaches may have to spend on the road during the December and January contact periods could lessen providing more work/life balance.


Negative unintended consequences that could come would be an increase in NLI release requests and/or transfers. This could include run-offs as well. Late bloomers may miss or have scholarship opportunities decreased if institutions have signed their maximum number of GIAs prior to their senior season. PSAs may have increased expenses related to unofficial recruiting visits as many decisions may need to be made prior to the first permissible time period for official visits.


Turley Brandenburg (Towson): The early signing period for football allows student-athletes ready to make a commitment the ability to officially do so, which for many will allow them to focus on their senior year of high school and shorten the time frame for the craziness that can be the recruiting process. However, this does move up the recruiting process earlier and will encourage even earlier recruiting. This could result in an increase in transfers or requests to be released from the NLI because prospects commit to a school that isn’t a good fit, a larger window for a potential coaching change, etc.


Blair (Rice): I generally like the proposed early signing period in conjunction with the earlier official visits as proposed. It will allow those who have made their decision to end the recruiting process and focus on enjoying their senior year of high school. I also think we may see a trickle down effect as some of the recruiting classes fill up, other prospects gain a better idea of who is still an option for them and they can focus their decision making process. My concern with the early signing period is how it affects the on campus admissions process for some schools. If you are a school that must have prospects admitted before they sign, I’m not sure how this will alter your internal policies and procedures as well as the prospects’ scheduling of standardized tests.