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January 30, 2013

Axing baton rule will change recruiting

The NCAA achieved most of its initial goals recently with a series of "common sense" changes intended to de-regulate in several areas and streamline the notorious rulebook, a complex 500-page manual that has given late-night comics plenty of fodder over the years.

The objective was to make life simpler for coaches and administrators. But the trade-off is expected to come later - tougher penalties for schools that can't resist the urge to break the rules in their quest for a competitive advantage.

"We're at the end of a process that started in August of 2011 to try to have what the NCAA staff has identified as smarter rules, but tougher enforcement," SEC Executive Associate Commissioner Greg Sankey said on Monday during the "Inside the Roost" program on 107.5 The Game.

"It's important to remember this was a first step and involved issues where there was support among the Division I membership."

Phase II will involve taking a deeper look at one of the more controversial topics that came from the Rules Working Group - creation of a uniform start date for recruiting in all sports.

The date of July 1 prior to a prospect's junior year in high school enjoys some support among the Division I membership, but the proposal was tabled and the rules working group was given additional time to study the issue.

"Rather than establish a common start date, the feedback at the 11th hour was, 'Wait a second, let's be a little more thoughtful,' Sankey said. "There is a need to adjust the recruiting start dates because practical experience suggests people are recruiting earlier and earlier. But we don't have the right date in print, so we needed some time to figure out a better system. That's part of the Phase II discussion."

The commitment to simplify the rule book - the recent changes will cut about 25 pages from the manual - hasn't been met with unanimous approval from the 370 Division I schools since each school supposedly has a different agenda.

"There are a lot of policies in a rule book that's about 500 pages long," Sankey said. "It has thousands of interpretations. One of the challenges was to figure out if there were places where a lot of the Division I membership could say, 'These are the things that matter. Let's focus on these legislative issues and start to delete some things that are secondary to our core purposes.'"

The NCAA adopted about 25 proposals. Some of them applied to recruiting, and eliminated most barriers to communications between coaches and prospects, such as text messaging and social media.

Sankey, a member of the influential Division I Committee on Infractions, said most cell-phone carriers now allow unlimited texting and calling, eliminating fears of prospects running up huge monthly bills responding to inquiries from coaches, as they often did five or six years ago.

"Now that we all have unlimited texting, that's been a generational change over the past five or six years," Sankey said. "That will create some management issues, as well."

In recruiting, restrictions on the number of coaches that could recruit off-campus at any one time, the so-called "baton rule" - were removed, meaning each of the nine assistant coaches will be able to hit the road simultaneously while recruiting their respective areas starting next season.

"There is some recognition that having people come home and 'tag up,' playing off a baseball analogy, before someone else could go recruit, or pass the baton, created a lot of duplication of travel and a lot of unnecessary costs," Sankey said.

"Someone has to fly back from the West Coast to Columbia, South Carolina, just so somebody else can go to Atlanta. That wasn't efficient. That was the basis that really started that piece of the conversation."

Future proposals to limit the number of non-football coaching staff personnel will be addressed - especially in the wake of the elimination of most rules curbing communications and the "baton rule" - during Phase II.

"That will be a very active conversation as people try to figure out what will be the right number," Sankey said. "The recruiting calendar conversation is front and center as we move forward, as well as financial aid, nutrition and playing and practicing rules.

"We have rules on the number of games that can be played, daily and weekly limits on the hours that can be spent. We want to properly manage the time of our student-athletes, but we also want to allow them to engage in the kind of competition that provides the challenges they seek as competitive people."

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