College Athletics Conference Takes On the NCAA

Pennsylvania colleges argue that an NCAA rules change requires them to spend money they don't have.

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Complying with NCAA rules is a lot harder when a school is feeling the effects of a major economic downturn. So, it shouldn't surprise anyone when a group of small-college presidents and the conference to which their schools belong say they can't afford to keep up with the NCAA's newest set of mandated updates.

There just isn't enough room in some schools' budgets to adhere to the rules that the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel created in 2008, says the Presidents Council of the Centennial Conference, a small, Division III athletics league headquartered in Lancaster, Pa.

The conference, which features 11 full and five associate members, says that dealing with the current economic recession takes precedence over spending extra money on the NCAA's required updates to all members' athletics facilities, Inside Higher Ed reports. The NCAA said that all schools with football teams must give referees wireless microphones to announce penalties. And, for schools with basketball teams, all backboards must have lights that go off when time expires and shot clocks that show tenths of seconds. All the updates must be done before the 2010 fall season.

It's not the changes with which the conference disagrees, Centennial Conference Executive Director Steven Ulrich says—it's the timing of them.

"The highest attendance in Division III football comes in the Midwest," Ulrich told Inside Higher Ed. "In the mid-Atlantic, we're not drawing more than 3,000 people for a football game. When I noted to our presidents that they were going to have to spend $5,000 on wireless microphones for referees to announce a holding call, they all said, 'Can't they move closer to the stands?' In some respects, I understand what they're saying. Sometimes, we're told, 'It's good for Division I, so it must be good for Division III.' Well, that's not always the case."

When the rules changes were originally announced, the NCAA Oversight Panel Chairman John Cochrane said there was plenty of time for schools to prepare for the updates. But that was before the economy nose-dived.

"The panel's main concern with this change was financial, and the group is comfortable that the rules committees have provided plenty of time to plan and budget for this important aspect of the game," Cochrane told the Associated Press.

NCAA Rules Panel liaison Ty Halpin said that all financial decisions were up to individual institutions. But if a school doesn't adhere to the updated rules, it cannot host NCAA championship events.

"While the panel understands the economic issues that many institutions and conferences are dealing with, the group believes the rules committees have given a proper amount of time and notification for the alternations that may cause some financial impact," Halpin wrote to Inside Higher Ed.

Yet Ursinus College President John Strassburger, who is the chairman of the Presidents Council, says the rules are fine as they are—financial issues or not—and changing them in any way would have a negative impact on the games the athletes play.

"I think this raises an issue that we have to figure out as Division III programs," Strassburger told Inside Higher Ed. "Athletics, at our institutions, are vying with a whole array of costs. Division I and II institutions often have large fundraising apparatuses. We don't. The NCAA is not taking into consideration the welter of institutional needs aside from athletics. What I want to see is a moratorium on any additional costs to be imposed on Division III institutions."