Rules Gone Wild: Part III (by Dwayne Barney and Paul Cleveland)

Couch            This is the third in a series of blogs devoted to studying the NCAA’s propensity to layer on an ever increasing number of rules.  Similar to the Code of Federal Regulations, the rules published in the NCAA Manual grow at a startling rate.  In this blog we will examine some of the specific bylaws found in the NCAA Manual in an attempt to give the reader an understanding of the kinds of nonsense our university compliance officers are now grappling with.  For a reader with a strong stomach, the entire manual can be found and downloaded from the NCAA’s web site. 

Bylaw 13 of the NCAA Manual is concerned with recruiting. It spells out in excruciating detail what sort of activities are and are not permitted when it comes to contact between a member of an institution’s staff and a prospective student-athlete. For instance, bylaw 13.1.9 says “[a]n institutional staff member may attend the funeral or memorial services of a student-athlete, a prospective student-athlete, or a member of the student-athlete’s or a prospective student-athlete’s immediate family, at which prospective student-athletes also may be in attendance, provided no recruiting contact occurs.” Now, it is hard to imagine that there are many institutional representatives who would frequent funerals for recruiting purposes, but evidently the mere possibility of such is sufficient to justify a bylaw prohibiting it. Another example of the specificity found in the manual is bylaw, which details the types of printed materials that an institution can provide to prospective student-athletes. To cite an example, if an institution sends a prospective student-athlete a postcard it “may not exceed 4 ¼ by 6 inches.” (bylaw (j)). And, it may contain “an athletics logo on one side….and may include only handwritten information….on the opposite side when provided to the recipients.” But schools should be careful when mailing out those 4 ¼ by 6 inch postcards, as bylaw indicates that “[a]n institution is not permitted to use express mail delivery services and may only use first-class mail or a lesser rate of service.” The 432 page NCAA Manual is chock full of specific directives of dos and don’ts of this sort and, of course, more are added each year. Such is how things trend when rule-makers run amok; rules always beget more rules.

In June of 2011 representatives of Boise State University (including one of the authors of this blog) appeared before the NCAA Infractions Committee as a result of an NCAA investigation that began three years earlier. A portion of the NCAA investigation focused on the Boise State football program (an episode that a Sports Illustrated writer dubbed as “CouchGate.”.)1  At issue were impermissible benefits received by prospective student-athletes who participated in NCAA-allowed voluntary summer conditioning workouts held on campus prior to the start of fall semester. The athletes participating in the workouts had graduated from high school and most had signed the NCAA’s National Letter of Intent indicating their commitment to attend Boise State University. But, even though an incoming student has signed a letter of intent, according to NCAA bylaw 13.02.11 the incoming student remains a “prospective” student-athlete up until the individual either attends classes or participates in a “regular” squad practice. Regular squad practices are confined to a strictly defined fall football season, thus giving rise to the desirability for voluntary conditioning workouts during the summer. The summer conditioning program is allowable by NCAA regulation, but is not considered a “regular” squad practice.  So the new players arriving on BSU’s campus were technically still deemed to be “football prospects.”

In the case of the newly-arriving football players enrolling at Boise State University, the NCAA referenced violations of bylaw This rule specifically prohibits an institutional staff member or “representative of its athletics interests” from arranging for a prospective student-athlete to receive “Free or reduced cost housing.” It is likely that the original intent of the bylaw was to prevent an institution from providing a star recruit with luxurious accommodations in order to gain a recruiting advantage over rival schools. However, once a bylaw is in place it is difficult to know where the line will or should be drawn. As a result, eventually the rule is pushed to the point of absurdity. At Boise State University the housing violations occurred when some of the new incoming football players crashed on couches or in spare bedrooms that were available in the apartments of their older teammates. In most instances the incoming student-athletes did pay a portion of the rent during the time they spent in the apartment, while in some instances they did not.

The final NCAA ruling was that the sharing of apartments between the new and returning football players was improper regardless of how much rent was paid. Certainly, this seems like an odd ruling.  At issue was the assistance provided by the coaches to the prospective student-athletes. The NCAA’s Public Infractions Report2 (2011, p. 10, 11) states that “It would have been permissible for a prospect to contact a student-athlete on his own initiative and [make] arrangements to stay with the student-athlete. The concern here is that the coaches’ arrangement of housing with student-athletes enabled prospective student-athletes to save time, effort, and perhaps money.” Heaven forbid.  


1See Stewart Mandell’s May 4, 2011 article in Sports Illustrated.  Available online at


2 The entire Boise State University Public Infractions report is available online at

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