NCAA rejects controversial request for blanket waiver that threatened Division I soccer and other non-revenue sports

by Paul Kennedy @pkedit

The NCAA Division I Council won't consider a request from 27 NCAA Division I conferences seeking emergency legislative relief to waive Division I requirements about the minimum number of sports a school must sponsor.

Meeting on Friday, the NCAA body heard the request for blanket waivers on a number of issues that the conferences are seeking for a period of at least two years to allow their schools to deal with revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

It will consider blanket waivers on several legislative requirements that impact athletic programs because of the disruption of the spring and summer semesters, but it ruled out a blanket waiver on the requirement about the minimum number of sports a school must sponsor.

The Group of 5 conferences from the Football Bowl Subdivision made the waiver requests and were joined by the 22 non-FBS conferences.

NCAA Division I minimum sports requirements:
FBS schools (10 conferences): 16 teams (minimum of 6 men's teams and minimum of 8 women's teams).
Non-FBS schools (22 conferences): 14 teams.

Leaders of non-revenue sports, including soccer, opposed the measure that they viewed as giving athletic departments carte blanche to cut programs that would never return. Men's soccer was particularly vulnerable because of the large size of its rosters relative to most other sports and Title IX considerations that make men's sports vulnerable in any program-cutting considerations.

The Division I Council didn't rule out any departure from the minimum number of sports a school is required to sponsor. It said, however, requests would have to be made on an individual basis. Schools could still scale back the number of programs they sponsor down to Division I minimum requirements.

The University of Cincinnati recently dropped its men's soccer program, launched in 1973, following a review of its athletic programs triggered by "this time of profound challenges and widespread uncertainty." American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco noted on ESPN's The Paul Finebaum Show, though, that the "this is something they might have done, even without the pandemic. Their soccer program was a concern to them."

Division I Council suggested it was open to giving its schools and conferences more flexibility but drew the line for now on waiving the minimum number of sports a school is required to sponsor.

“Higher education is facing unique challenges, and the Division I leadership believes it’s appropriate to examine areas in which rules can be relaxed or amended to provide flexibility for schools and conferences,” said Penn athletics director Grace Calhoun, the Division I Council chairperson, in a statement released by the NCAA. “We will prioritize student-athlete well-being and opportunities balanced with reducing costs associated with administering college sports, but a blanket waiver of sport sponsorship requirements is not in keeping with our values and will not be considered.”