Sub-Varsity Teams

Discussion of NCAA Legislation: Sub-varsity teams

Please keep in mind that this e-mail was written after a fair amount of research and with help from the NCAA membership services staff and Pac-10 compliance officers. So while this posting does not carry the same weight as official NCAA correspondence, it is more than just personal opinion or speculation.

The basic principle that applies to this entire discussion is that Division I institutions in the recruiting process generally cannot conduct or participate in tryouts of prospective student-athletes. See section 13.11 of the manual and all its subparts. Any high school student who has started classes for the ninth grade is a prospect ( NCAA Proposal 2005-72 was passed and goes into effect on August 1. It adds additional restrictions on competition against prospects. The new rule will read as follows:

“ Competition Against Prospects. An institution’s varsity intercollegiate team may compete against a two-year college team but may not compete against a high-school or preparatory school team. Subvarsity teams are not bound by this prohibition. An institution’s varsity team may not participate in a contest against an established outside (e.g., nonscholastic team) team that includes high-school prospects, provided the outside team is ongoing and was not established for the specific purpose of competing against the collegiate team except for permissible contests while on a foreign tour, exempted contests against a foreign team in the United States and the United States national team. Subvarsity teams are not bound by this prohibition.”

The change here is that varsity teams may no longer compete against nonscholastic teams. Examples of actual scholastic / high school / preparatory school rowing teams include St. Ignatius High School (San Francisco), Simsbury High School, and Phillips Andover Academy. Examples of nonscholastic established outside teams include club teams such as CRI or Oakland Strokes. But with the new rule change all that really matters is that varsity teams can’t compete against a crew that includes a prospect. So we also need to beware of things such as a high school coxswain in an otherwise all masters crew.

The most likely situations where we might run into a violation is at a fall head race or something like the open eight or lightweight eight event at a regatta like the San Diego Crew Classic. If you enter an event, whether it is a quad or open four or whatever, and a crew that includes prospects enters as well, you can’t race without violating the rule. What about some races where the college entries and high school entries are commingled but separate medals are awarded? Nope, sorry, you are still competing against a high school team. The events could be run consecutively, and you are welcome to compare times, but they have to be separate, distinct events. What about it being an open event? Simply putting the word ‘open’ in the title of an event does not work to get around the prohibition against competition against prospects, although many people think that is the case. Bylaw covers open events and the exception for open events only applies if it is an event held on your own campus. And the intent is more for individual sports, like an open 100 meter dash race run at a track meet at your home track and field facility.

What about the youth eight events at races like the Head of the Charles? Well, it continues to be permissible for subvarsity teams to compete against scholastic and nonscholastic teams that include prospects. So I’ll cover the topic of subvarsity teams now.

NCAA bylaw 17.02.12 defines a “varsity intercollegiate sport”. That is a sport that has been so designated by the institution, is administered by the department of intercollegiate athletics, for which the eligibility of the student-athletes is certified, and in which participants receive official varsity awards. While the concept of subvarsity teams appears in many of the bylaws, subvarsity is never really defined. But essentially a subvarsity team has to be so designated by the institution, is administered by the department of intercollegiate athletics, and the eligibility of the team members has to be certified. But the competition level is lower than that of the counterpart varsity team and the members of the subvarsity team do not receive official varsity awards. While the word ‘subvarsity’ is used throughout the NCAA manual, you could substitute ‘junior varsity’, or even ‘novice’, and you would still be talking about the same thing.

I will add a caution here. We all know that the NCAA Division I Rowing Championship includes the eight, second eight, and four in determining the team champion. Many people in our sport still refer to the second (varsity) eight as the junior varsity eight. That is an old school misnomer. Very clearly the second eight participants, and the student-athletes in the four for that matter, are participating in a varsity event. You can call the crew the JV if you like, but that does not qualify those student-athletes for the various subvarsity provisions of the NCAA rules.

I think the key thing to note is that a subvarsity team needs to be officially declared by the institution to be a subvarsity team. You can’t just slap a label on a group of student-athletes and therefore have a true subvarsity team. For an example outside of the sport of rowing, you might look to the University of North Carolina. They have an officially designated junior varsity men’s basketball team. And you can even find the JV schedule on the athletic department website.

And now, for the heart of the issue, we have to address the definition of subvarsity competition. I quote from the NCAA membership services staff:

“In order for a team to meet the definition of subvarsity, and thus be permitted to compete against prospects, the team would have to be declared a subvarsity team and the event would have to meet the definition of a junior varsity contest specified in a November 2, 1990 staff interpretation. The interpretation reads as follows:

Determination of Junior-Varsity Contest: Reviewed Bylaw 17 (contest limitation) and 89/03/30 Interpretations Committee minutes, Item No. 5, and determined that the language “participate primarily on the varsity level” refers to an individual who plays in 50 percent or more of the institution’s varsity contests; therefore, a junior varsity team is one in which 50 percent or more of the players on the junior varsity team cannot have played in 50 percent or more of the institution’s varsity contests.”

So not only do you have to have your team declared to be subvarsity, you have to keep track of the student-athletes’ competitions and at which level they competed. Let’s say somebody raced a couple of fall races as part of the subvarsity (novice) team. Then they ended up racing all of the spring season races in the second eight. They would be considered a varsity athlete and work against the above 50% – 50% provision.

Additionally, not all events labeled as novice would truly count as subvarsity contests. For example, events labeled as novice are part of some conference rowing championships’ team points competition, including the Pac-10, ACC, Big 10, and A-10. Therefore, regardless of the word novice in the title, participants in the novice events in those championships are engaged in varsity competition.

Here are a couple of more items. The subvarsity team members do count towards gender equity and the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA). Again quoting from the NCAA membership services staff: “A student-athlete on an institution’s subvarsity rowing team would use a season of competition in the sport of rowing when the student-athlete represents the institution in competition, even if the competition occurs against a rowing team comprised of prospects”. Very definitively the varsity and subvarsity teams must follow the same practice and playing season (17.1.1). And you don’t get extra coaches or scholarships because you have a subvarsity team. But a member of the subvarsity team could be on scholarship.

So if you officially declare your subvarsity team, differentiate the subvarsity competitions from the varsity competitions, keep track of everybody’s involvement to ensure you meet the 50% – 50% guideline, and don’t award varsity letters to your subvarsity athletes, you can have a group of rowers who compete against teams with prospects. But it is more complicated than simply stating that a freshman/novice crew can race against prospects.

Some people have asked me if there is a possibility of getting an exception for rowing to the prohibition against varsity teams competing against prospects. As this proposal was passed in order to standardize the rule for all sports, and we are not the only sport affected by the rule change, I doubt that there would be much of a chance for a rowing exception. The solution, in which many people have already been involved, is to educate regatta organizers to this rule. Most organizing committees have been very amenable to creating college only categories so that everybody who wants to attend a competition can do so.

Needless to say there are many nuances to these rules and everything is subject to interpretation. As always we rely on our integrity to meet both the letter and the spirit of the NCAA rules. I will be happy to receive feedback on this e-mail directly to me or in the open forum of the CRCA listserv. Have a great summer.