NCAA boosts election power of athletes, sets basketball date

Students won't be playing or competing on Nov. 3; Division I college basketball will open just before Thanksgiving
By: | September 17, 2020
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The NCAA made so many significant announcements on Wednesday – including the reinstatement of college basketball on Nov. 25 – that its breaking news on student-athletes and Election Day received little fanfare.

But its significance might turn out to be more impactful than any of its other proposals, especially during this calendar year.

The NCAA Division I Council approved legislation that bars student-athletes from practicing or competing in any athletic-related activities on the first Tuesday in November every year. That includes this Election Day, slated for Nov. 3.

The idea was proposed by the NCAA’s Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which hadn’t offered up legislation since it pitched giving student-athletes a vote at every level of decision-making six years ago. It is hoping the new mandate will spark increased civic engagement, community service and of course, voter turnout.

“Coming from Division I SAAC, we know it represents the voice of student-athletes across the country who continue to express a desire to increase their civic engagement at local, state and federal levels,” said Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at the University of Pennsylvania. “We look forward to seeing student-athletes use this opportunity as a way to create positive change.”

The legislation fits with the Student-Athlete Advisory Council’s goals for the 2020-21 school year, which include increasing diversity and inclusion education through civic engagement, enhancing the student-athlete voice in legislative and policy issues, and promoting the physical and mental health of student-athletes.

“As Division I SAAC representatives and as student-athletes across the country, we are so excited to see this proposal become legislation,” said Ethan Good, Division I SAAC chair and former men’s basketball player at Bowling Green. “By providing this day dedicated to civic engagement each year, we are making a clear distinction that our American student-athletes will always be citizens before they are athletes. The student-athlete voice continues to grow louder and louder every year, and we can see that through this action.”

Basketball date pushed back

The pandemic has affected all college athletic programs and their student-athletes this fall. Some institutions have opted to delay their seasons until the spring while others have played on, putting the NCAA in a tough position to determine how winter seasons will work and how and when postseason tournaments will be played. The biggest consideration around any changes have been keeping athletes, coaches and staff healthy and safe.

So when it looked at the start of its college basketball season, the Division I Men’s and Women’s Oversight Committees opted against opening on Nov. 10, instead pushing back that first date to Nov. 25. The reason? The majority of colleges and universities will have ended their fall semesters and/or moved instruction online, meaning campuses will be less-populated.

“The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the basketball season,” said NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt. “It is a grand compromise of sorts and a unified approach that focuses on the health and safety of student-athletes competing towards the 2021 Division I basketball championships.”

There are numerous other changes on the horizon for both the men and women competing. Men will have their seasons reduced by four games, meaning they can still play a maximum of 24 regular-season contests plus compete in one three-game tournament. The women can have 23 regular-season games and compete in a four-game event. All programs will have to abide by numerous protocols that keep athletes and staff safe.

As for March Madness tournaments, the NCAA offered no updates although several media outlets have reported that it is still planning on hosting them in some form.

Other changes on the way from the NCAA

The recent announcement of the Big Ten to start up football this fall will give the NCAA better guidance for proceeding with potential bowl games and the Football Bowl Subdivision playoff. But other tiers of football, other sports and even the recruitment of players are being affected by the COVID-19 fallout as well. Here are some other proposals and changes that are coming from the NCAA:

College football: The postseason for the Football Championship Subdivision (comprised of 127 programs that compete a tier below upper-echelon teams such as LSU, Clemson and Alabama) will be held April 18 through May 15, 2021. Its playoff bracket likely will be reduced from 24 teams to 16 next week by the NCAA’s Board of Directors. Teams that are not competing in the fall can play up to eight regular-season games during 13 weeks in the spring. “The intent is to allow maximum flexibility for conferences and schools, with an overarching goal of returning to the normal calendar for the 2021-22 academic year,” according to the NCAA, which has also put forth numerous rules regarding the hours and types of practices programs can conduct.

Recruiting: The NCAA’s Division I Council extended its ban on “in-person” recruiting of student-athletes by colleges and universities through the rest of the year. During what’s typically known as the dead period, recruiters will still be able to connect via phone or virtually. “While the Council acknowledged and appreciates the growing desire to resume in-person recruiting, members ultimately concluded the primary concern right now must be protecting the current student-athletes on our campuses,” Calhoun said. In addition, the NCAA is also prohibiting institutions from granting free event tickets to athletes, their high schools and to two-year colleges.

Other championships: Even though athletic contests across many sports – including soccer, cross country and volleyball – will be played in the fall, the NCAA is pitching for its playoff contests to be held in the spring of 2021. This would allow colleges that already postponed fall athletics to the spring to have its teams compete in the postseason. The NCAA said there is a strong possibility that the number of teams qualifying for the postseason and the number of tournament sites will be reduced to “support health and safety and operational management.”


Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at cburt@lrp.com