Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
I'm still here in wonderful, sunny Atlanta for the NASSM Conference, where professors of sports management and related disciplines from all over the world gather together to share research, catch up with each other, and complain about their deans.
This is an exceptionally Extra Points kind of event. Basically, I just wander from one hotel conference room to another, asking strangers, "so, what are you researching?" and then plunging into an entirely new rabbit hole world that I didn't realize I'd be interested in. And generally, folks are actually really excited to talk to me, because I think I'm the only reporter here, and I suspect there aren't many that typically wander into these conferences and start asking "so who here has the latest dope on historical stadium financing options???"
I've still got two days left of the conference before I head back to Chicago, and I hope to share more about what I've heard when I get back.
But one of the papers that I did have a chance to hear about was titled "Narrative: The History of NCAA Athletics Scholarship Limits", From Dr.Barbara Osborne, Dr.Erianne Weight, and Dr.Kate Kantor at UNC, and Dr.Molly Harry at UVA. Dr.Osborne was kind enough to discuss the paper with me later that afternoon after their team had presented it to other scholars.
The four academics poured through NCAA archival material, manuals, and other historical documents to better understand the arguments presented by administrators for why various scholarship limits were implemented across multiple sports.
In the very beginning of college sports, the only real limitations on roster sizes were logistical...if you wanted to have 200 men on your football team, well, nobody at the NCAA was going to stop you. While guidelines were created in the mid-1950s, their research team found that no hard and fast limits were implemented until 1973, when the NCAA also established the one-year scholarship rule.
Why did NCAA and school leaders push for those changes? Part of the reason, per the research team, was a concern over rising costs across multiple sports. The other was a concern over roster stockpiling. Students of college football history probably remember allegations of certain programs taking 40, 50 recruits in a cycle, not because they thought they could actually play all of those kids, but simply so conference rivals wouldn't have them. Then the coaches would simply "run them off", or "process" them later on.
Reexamining these justifications feels particularly germane now, as the NCAA Transformation Committee could very well dramatically roll back scholarship limits on Olympic sports, theoretically allowing rich schools to say, offer scholarships to the entire softball team, instead of just a handful of partial scholarships.
I talked to Dr.Osborne after her presentation, and she told me she wasn't sure removing scholarship limits entirely would be good for college athletics as a whole, as it could potentially open programs up to the same roster stockpiling issues that existed in the 1950s. In the transfer portal era, it might even be easier for coaches to "process" athletes, even if that wasn't the original intent of the legislation.
Instead, she suggested schools ditch the headcount model for football and basketball, and bring those sports back to the equivalency sport model, with initial counter limitations. She also suggested that scholarship minimums for all sports should be raised to "at least the number of unique positions on a roster", while also considering if a sport was a contact sport, and various injury rates.
I'm not automatically sure if that's the best idea, but I do think that her presentation argued pretty persuasively that women's sports were especially handcuffed by scholarship limits, compared to football and men's basketball. However the final numbers get drawn up, surely member schools could find a more equitable solution than they have now.
But that wasn't the only presentation I heard!
In this episode of Going For Two, I catch Bryan up on the other papers I learned about while I've been here, who I'm going to try and shake down next, and sure, a little bit about the WAC's innovative proposal to improve basketball scheduling...and maybe for everybody in all sports.
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