Looming NCAA Decisions
Derek and Joann had the pleasure of observing a Zoom call that NFCA leadership had with travel ball coaches. Hosted by NFCA Executive Director, Carol Bruggeman; NFCA President, Kate Drohan; and NFCA Director of Education and Program Development, Joanna Lane. Also on the call were OSU head coach Kenny Gajewski, Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson, Southern Illinois head coach Kerri Blaylock, NFCA legal counsel Samantha Ekstrand, and Oregon Senior Associate AD – Chief Compliance Jody Sykes.
The call was precipitated by concern amongst the travel ball community about a suggestion to the NCAA that would push the initial call date for the 2022 class from September 1st to sometime next year. Coupled with that was concern about the delaying of the 2021 signing period and an extended dead period that might eliminate the fall recruiting window. All of these are valid and major concerns for the softball community as a whole, and it was great that NFCA leadership chose to address it all head on.
Basically this group hit a grand slam. They clearly, patiently, and methodically explained the NCAA process and issues that schools and leadership are facing in dealing with this pandemic of CoVid-19. The forum lasted for two hours and could not fully summarize it here, but some highlights that resonated with us.
- It was clear that there is empathy, understanding, and compassion at the center of it, along with a firm resolve to get this right. As Kate Drohan said, paraphrased some - “we’re not changing the process. We are simply adjusting the timeline. We need to make the best next decision for the sport. And that may be a PAUSE.”
- All four coaches involved initially looked at the problem one way, but then after listening and reflection changed their minds. This approach mostly centered around concern for their present group of players.
- The coaches also unanimously expressed that they are simply NOT READY for September 1st. It was pointed out that despite the fact that they tracked 2022s last fall, they still haven’t seen them since October/November. They need more time to make informed decisions. This is especially difficult when viewed thru the lens that coaches have no idea what their own programs are looking like right now due to budget cuts, scholarship monies, fifth year players, etc.
- From a risk management perspective, risk runs high when hasty decisions are made. And the risks of making a poor choice are greater now for players, families, and coaches since recruiting evaluation has been dark since 2019.
- Support for moving the September 1st contact is “more than a SUPER MAJORITY of D1 coaches.” But there is NO PROPOSAL yet. They are still working thru the process.
- The NFCA is a voice but not a decision maker. The NCAA, the schools and their presidents – make decisions that are the result of discussion, committee findings, collaboration and more.
- A fundamental aspect of NCAA athletics is maintaining COMPETITIVE EQUITY. With campuses operating differently as they prepare to open or remain closed; regions of the country operating differently in regards to norms; budgets and scholarship money up in the air – all these and more can easily lead to lack of competitive equity.
- If the date were to be moved from September 1st to July 1st, the only reason it feels “late” is because of where we have been, as opposed to where we are. Most of the 2022s’ peers in high school will make their college decisions in the summer and fall of their senior years.
- Coach Anderson talked about an SEC meeting with Commissioner Greg Sankey where he stressed looking at the entire picture – not just softball. The NCAA, conference commissioners, and the presidents of the colleges and universities have to look at ramifications for their entire school – faculty, student body, athletics as an entity. Softball cannot focus on softball alone.
- When the Pac-12 limited football to conference games only, the University of Oregon lost $45 million. And football takes care of 80% of the entire athletic budget.
Needless to say, there was much more to the conversation, but the bottom line is that the NFCA leadership is doing it right. What will happen next is anyone’s guess. The future is still too murky for anyone to reliably predict. But our concerns for the sport were alleviated as much as they could possibly be. We want to thank the NFCA for taking the time and the initiative to make this Grassroots forum possible. It was two hours of very valuable information and discussion.