Examining Ohio State's NCAA coach waiver

There has been a great deal of reaction since Ohio State sought and received a waiver from the NCAA that allows the team to exceed the maximum number of coaches allowed on staff to recruit. The waiver essentially allows new head coach Urban Meyer to recruit for Ohio State while the existing coaches, including interim head coach Luke Fickell, prepare the team for its upcoming bowl game.

Other Big Ten coaches and administrators have weighed in, questioning the fairness of the waiver. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told the Associated Press in an email that he's "struggling to understand how this relates to the 'level playing field' the NCAA claims it is always working to create." Many fans wonder how an Ohio State program that has a pending infractions case with the NCAA could receive what they believe to be special treatment.

I wanted to examine the waiver a little closer and reached out to folks familiar with the process, both at the NCAA and elsewhere.

Here's what I found:

  • The waiver doesn't create two separate coaching staffs, as many have reported, including yours truly (I apologize for the error). It instead allows teams dealing with coaching transitions to increase the number of coaches allowed to recruit. The waiver still limits teams to 10 coaches on the field and 10 engaged in recruiting (no more than seven allowed to recruit off campus). All the existing coaches handle the on-field coaching and any new coaches, like Meyer, are limited to recruiting.

  • There are typically three criteria for this waiver: team in bowl game, team has made coaching change, new head coach has been hired. There are also cases where a new coach hasn't been hired and the waiver is granted so a school's athletic director can have contact with verbally committed recruits until a head-coaching hire is made. Ohio State's case is a bit unique because Fickell, the team's current head coach, is remaining on Meyer's staff as an assistant.

  • The waiver for Ohio State isn't unprecedented. According to the NCAA, six such waivers have been granted in the past five years and five waivers have been granted for this year alone. Although the NCAA doesn't release the specific programs that applied for the waiver, we know three of them this year: Ohio State, Illinois and UCLA.

  • The Big Ten has no role in granting these waivers. It's entirely an NCAA issue. Schools make waiver requests to the NCAA and the NCAA's subcommittee on legislative relief approves them.

The bigger complaint is whether a school dealing with an infractions case should be able to receive this waiver.

  • For the most part, the NCAA views an infractions situation completely separate from the coaches' waiver. If a school has been penalized for NCAA violations relating to countable coaches or recruiting issues, the waiver wouldn't be granted to supersede the penalties. But if the violations don't relate to these issues, the waiver is granted.

  • The NCAA has granted the waiver to "at least" one team on probation and one dealing with a pending infractions case in the past five years. While Ohio State has admitted to committing NCAA violations, the case hasn't been resolved and penalties haven't been handed down. Ohio State's admitted violations didn't have to do with countable coaches or recruiting.

It's definitely fair to question why the NCAA grants these waivers to any school on probation or dealing with infractions cases, regardless of whether the violations relate to countable coaches or recruiting. But the waiver in itself, which isn't a new thing, is designed to help programs through a transition. Otherwise, a team could pay the price in recruiting for making a bowl. The waiver isn't necessary for teams dealing with coaching transitions that haven't made bowls because there are no coaches on the field during this time.

While I doubt this post will temper the outcry about Ohio State's waiver, I hope it provides a better understanding of what happened and the history behind it.