Athletics Might Be Cancelled, But Your NCAA Obligations Are Not: Maintaining Academic Conduct and Extra Benefits Compliance for NCAA Member Institutions in the COVID-19 Remote Learning Era

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP
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Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP

The future of collegiate athletics remains uncertain as colleges and universities head into the fall semester, but whether institutions cancel athletics this term, one thing remains certain for NCAA member institutions: academic conduct and extra benefits rules still apply. Without a doubt, many issues are competing for colleges’ and universities’ attention heading into the new term. For NCAA member institutions using some form of remote instruction, one issue worth considering is how best to maintain compliance with the NCAA’s academic conduct and extra benefits rules in the virtual learning environment. While institutions made rapid transitions to a remote learning environment during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, many are revisiting their online programming and updating their policies before the new academic year begins. (See here for an article discussing considerations for remote learning.) As institutions prepare for the upcoming term, they would be well-served to consider how changes to academic life might require additional steps to ensure compliance with NCAA rules and maintain eligibility for competition whenever collegiate sports resume.

Below are a few items institutions may wish to consider as preparations for the fall semester continue:

  • Your institution’s academic policies and procedures. Institutional academic policies and procedures are the starting point for possible academic misconduct violations. Have your institution’s academic policies changed recently as a result of COVID-19 or otherwise? Have you instituted interim policies that are still in effect?
    • If so, ensure that your athletics community understands any policy changes by arranging training or other programs. Consider including athletics directors, coaches, faculty athletics representatives, athletics academic advisors, tutors, student-athletes, and any others in your community who work with student-athletes.
    • Even if your policies haven’t changed, consider planning training sessions for student-athletes, tutors, and academic advisors who work with student-athletes to refresh best practices in the current academic environment.
    • Organizing regular meetings with your institution’s leadership, athletics department staff, faculty athletics representatives, and academic support services is always a good practice for promoting academic integrity in your programs, but it may be even more important in this rapidly changing environment.
    • Ensure that your campus community knows and understands the mechanisms and lines of communication for reporting potential academic misconduct issues or concerns, particularly if those have changed as a result of COVID-19.
  • Academic assistance for student-athletes. Even when conduct does not violate institutional academic policies and procedures, NCAA rules governing impermissible academic assistance may come into play. What forms of academic assistance is your institution offering or planning to offer student-athletes in the upcoming term?
    • Evaluate these forms of assistance under applicable NCAA rules and consider, by way of example, whether the assistance is substantial, generally available to your institution’s students (non-athletes included), or falls within an exception to the NCAA’s rules governing extra benefits.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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