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Conferences Seek Relief from NCAA Membership Rules

Jason Scott

Division I schools representing conferences outside of the Power Five have asked the NCAA to consider relaxing membership requirements in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

ESPN reports that schools from both the FBS and FCS ranks are seeking to relax rules as programs grapple with the unprecedented coronavirus crisis. 

The so-called Group of 5 conferences, which includes the American Athletic, the Mountain West, the Mid-American, the Sun-Belt and Conference USA, reportedly asked NCAA president Mark Emmert for temporary relief from requirements related to financial aid and minimum football attendance on behalf of all Division I schools. 

“As you are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic turmoil has resulted in the direst financial crisis for higher education since at least the Great Depression," the Group of 5 commissioners wrote in their letter to Emmert. "Among the financial challenges being faced include significant decreases in state appropriations, substantial losses in endowment value, and a downturn in philanthropic activity. An already trying environment for enrollment is expected to see even more sizable reductions, not to mention the continuing trend in deep reductions in the enrollment of international students. Finally, all of this is playing out with no ability to predict when normal operations might resume."

Meanwhile, the remaining conferences have joined the chorus of programs seeking relief from particular aspects of NCAA membership requirements. 

Noreen Morris, the commissioner of the Northeast Conference and chair of the Collegiate Commissioners’ Association Group (CCA22), which oversees FCS and non-football DI conferences, told ESPN that they’re seeking blanket waivers on behalf of all Division I schools.

"A coordinated membership and national office effort in this regard is critical to ensure the membership can confidently and efficiently move forward during this uncertain time with little doubt about whether certain bylaws were inadvertently overlooked," Morris wrote in an email. 

Meanwhile, not everyone is on board with the calls for relaxed NCAA requirements. A group of coaches from sports that could face cuts if rules related to the minimum number of sports were relaxed sent their own letter to Emmert, asking to take that option off the table.

"Reducing the minimum sports sponsorship requirement that would open the door to eliminating sports should not be an option," the letter said. "We are all in this together, and we are ready, eager, and willing to partner with the NCAA to find creative solutions for the challenges to come. America's students have had so much taken from them. Now is not the time to cut them off from yet another critical institution that makes university life so special."

The NCAA Division I Council will ultimately decide on whether or not rules will be relaxed. The Council is expected to meet via video conference this week, but no vote on these proposals is expected.

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