Big Ten: Chad Hawley

Last week was a rough one for the Big Ten as Ohio State dominated the headlines for mostly the wrong reasons, but the league got some good news on Friday.

From the SEC, of all places.

The SEC presidents and chancellors voted Friday to reduce the number of scholarship football players teams can sign each year from 28 to 25. Although not a cure-all, it's an important step toward curbing the practice of oversigning, which the Big Ten banned in 1956. The debate about oversigning has intensified in recent months, and many view the SEC as the worst offender.

Not surprisingly, the Big Ten was pleased with the news out of Destin, Fla.

"The current national rule is ineffective," Big Ten associate commissioner for compliance Chad Hawley told, "so to the extent the SEC or any other conference were to take steps to curb the practice, that's a good thing."

The SEC coaches voted unanimously to keep the signing limit at 28, but the presidents and chancellors overruled them. University of Florida president Bernie Machen, who had been vocal in his criticism of oversigning, said he's "proud of the step we've taken really in a leadership role nationally to deal with this bigger concept of roster management."

The Big Ten in many ways already had taken the lead against oversigning, but it helps that other leagues are exploring the issue.

So where does the debate go from here?

"If they were to move forward with proposing national legislation, that would be an opportunity to talk about what the best approach to managing the issue would be," Hawley said. "Beyond that, we feel good about where we are, how we addressed the issue with our rule. I think it's a good thing that any conference, in the absence of a national rule, takes the initiative to manage the situation. That's good."

While Hawley thinks a national rule would provide competitive equity, the greater benefit, he said, would be with student-athlete welfare. The Big Ten and other leagues are exploring ways to enhance student-athlete welfare, including scholarship restructuring that would allocate more resources to athletes.

"The student-athlete welfare piece of it is pretty compelling," Hawley said.
There has been a bit of confusion in the past week about the Big Ten's proposal to make full athletic scholarships go further than they currently do.

Since commissioner Jim Delany mentioned the proposal to reporters last Tuesday, you've probably heard a lot about pay-for-play, stipends, salaries and the like. It's not what the plan actually entails.

I checked in with Big Ten associate commissioner for compliance Chad Hawley to get a clearer picture.

Here are some key points:
  • This is a scholarship structural issue; it's not about stipends or salaries for athletes. The Big Ten is proposing whether a full scholarship (grant-in-aid) should cover more costs than it already does. Scholarships currently cover tuition and fees, room and board and books. The proposal would have scholarships potentially cover "cost of attendance," a dollar figure set by each institution according to federal regulations for financial aid. The difference between the current scholarship cost and one that covers cost of attendance has been estimated at an average of $2,000-$5,000 per athlete per year.
  • If the proposal is adopted at the NCAA level (more on this later), it would affect every athlete on a full scholarship. A women's soccer goalie would have the same scholarship structure as a quarterback. "What we're talking about is not limited to football and men's basketball," Hawley said. The proposal wouldn't impact athletes on partial scholarships.
  • This wouldn't be a case of the Big Ten going out on its own to adopt a new policy. An NCAA bylaw would need to be changed, Hawley said, for anything to go into effect. Any NCAA insituation or league then would have the option to change its scholarship structure or keep the status quo. "To think this is something we could do on our own and leave everybody else behind, it's not reality," Hawley said.
  • Keep in mind that cost of attendance figures represent maximums. The proposal would allow schools to have the option to reach the cost of attendance. "It wouldn't be a mandate," Hawley said. Schools also could structure their scholarships so more costs are covered but the full cost of attendance isn't reached. This is akin to some schools not using the maximum number of allowed scholarships for a given sport.
  • Hawley said the proposal had been brewing for a bit but wasn't brought up in a league-wide forum until the spring meetings last week in Chicago. The discussion hasn't reached a phase in which every school evaluates its ability to restructure scholarships in this way. "The reality is it would cost more money," Hawley said. "There's certainly a presumption that institutions with more resources would be able to do it."

I'm sure we'll be talking much more about this topic, so stay tuned.
Here's the second half of my discussion with Big Ten associate commissioner Chad Hawley on the hot topic of oversigning in college football recruiting.

Also check out Part I.

Do you have any sense of how Big Ten coaches feel about oversigning, especially when they see coaches from other leagues acknowledging it's a competitive advantage?

Chad Hawley: It's pretty safe to say if the day were to ever come where oversigning was not allowed, we would all be pleased with that for a variety of reasons. Part of it is competitive, part of it is welfare.

How comfortable are the coaches with the Big Ten's current policy?

CH: They played an important role in us having the limit of three [players oversigned]. Prior to 2002, we just flat out did not allow oversigning. They do recognize others sign more and they see that as a disadvantage, but they're also looking at their own rosters. They're coming into the fall and maybe having 82 or 83 people on scholarship, so they're looking at it from a roster-management perspective as well, wanting to get to the fall fully staffed at 85 student-athletes on scholarship. They were in tune with it. I can only assume that they pay attention to competitors nationally, but really it was taking a look at how their own rosters were looking.

It's hard to predict the future, but where do you see this issue going? Are there any important moves on the horizon?

CH: I don't think you can deny the speed that it's picking up. Will that translate into national legislation? I'm not sure. I'm friends with Greg Sankey down at the SEC and I've seen some of his quotes where they're discussing maybe doing something further. Is the conversation picking up speed, not only in the media but other conferences? It seems like it could be. But we just had a baseball proposal shot down.

It seems like it all ultimately goes back to the individual conferences being on board, doesn't it?

CH: Exactly. Would the Big Ten welcome a scenario where there's a national limit on oversigning? Of course we would. But just because that's been a philosophy in our conference for over 50 years doesn't necessarily mean we could go out and get everyone else to adopt it. One is the appropriateness of wanting to impart your philosophy on others. The other is just the reality of whether that could get adopted.

How appropriate is lobbying in a case like this one?

CH: It's just something we haven't done aside from the baseball proposal. We recognize that we're being more restrictive than what the NCAA rules expressly allow. That's just consistent with how we'd like to operate.
Big Ten fans are furious about oversigning in recruiting, and rightfully so.

What does the league office think about the questionable practice?

As most of you know by now, the Big Ten banned oversigning in 1956. The league in 2002 implemented a rule that allows schools to oversign by three players as long as they document how they fell below the 85-man scholarship limit for football and how they came back into compliance. But the Big Ten avoids the type of oversigning that often occurs in leagues like the SEC and Big 12.

I checked in with Chad Hawley, the Big Ten's associate commissioner for compliance, to get the league's take on what has become a very hot topic in college football.

Here's the first part of our discussion.

How do you approach this issue nationally when the Big Ten has long prohibited the type of oversigning we see elsewhere?

Chad Hawley: We're pleased that it is getting more attention, but it's not been an issue we've gotten out in front of and tried to push nationally. For us, it's something that we've really been doing for as long as we've been giving athletic scholarships. It's been ingrained in our culture, something we're used to. We have provided limited exceptions in the past few years, but with those exceptions we have monitored to see just how institutions are coming back into compliance.

Do those exceptions relate to the rule that allows three over the [scholarship] limit?

CH: Correct. This is the difference between our rule and what the NCAA rule is. If you have 20 scholarship slots available, our rule would allow you to sign 23, where the NCAA is a firm number. We allow oversigning by three in football. Some have used it, not everyone has. On a year-to-year basis, there are fewer than use it than not. And even within those instances, we may be looking at oversigning by two or even one.

Illinois' class this year looks to be at least 30. How does that work under the Big Ten's rules?

CH: You look at it first glance and you think the math is curious, but if you have a number of individuals that are recruited in the total recruiting class of 30 who had enrolled mid-year, had enrolled right now, it could count back against last year's limits. Let's say if you've got 30 and you had three enroll at midyear, you're able to count their scholarships against the 2010-11 academic year, a limit of 25. Let's assume that you have room within the 85 to have 30 [total]; heading into next year, you're looking at 55 returners.

If three that enrolled midyear are able to count against this year's academic limit, that drops it down to 27 and you only oversign by two. When the number gets up to 30, 31 even, what's happening is you've got some included that total of the upcoming class that are already enrolled and are counting in the present academic year's limits.

You mentioned that you're happy oversigning is getting more attention but you're not going out of your way to bring light to it. Who needs to do that? Is it the media, or can it come from other conferences?

CH: Just because something makes sense philosophically to us, it doesn't exactly translate to an expectation that everyone else thinks the way that we do. That's part of it. We look at it not just as a football issue but an issue in all sports. For this past year's NCAA legislative cycle, we actually did submit a proposal that would have imposed signing limits in the sport of baseball, and that proposal went down in flames a couple of weeks ago. It didn't get any national support. Part of it's looking at whether something would be adopted nationally. The other part of it is just because something makes sense philosophically to you doesn't necessarily mean it's right for everybody else.

How do you think a similar proposal in football would be received?

CH: It's tough to say. On one hand, just because someone oversigns, does that mean they're abusive in what they're doing? Not necessarily. With what our exception does, you're pretty limited to the extent you can oversign. So it's not inherently evil. I think you might find some who would keep allowing it nationally. On the other hand, if we're all on the same page, it wouldn't really be an issue. We have not gone through the process of gauging where folks would be nationally if we were to sponsor legislation.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- A pile of red folders sits on Jennifer Vining-Smith's desk. They're the violations you never hear about, the ones that flow into the Big Ten office on a regular basis.

"Violations happen," said Vining-Smith, the Big Ten's assistant director of compliance. "If schools are reporting violations, that's good. It's when schools are not reporting them when we get worried."

Vining-Smith and assistant commissioner for compliance Chad Hawley address compliance questions from member schools, help determine the severity of violations and work with the league's compliance and reinstatement subcommittee, which reviews all violations and determines the further action.

NCAA violations are broken up into two levels. Level 1 violations reported by the schools go straight to the NCAA, while Level 2 violations come to the Big Ten for review. The Big Ten submits Level 2 violations [secondary] to the NCAA on a quarterly basis, usually including about 80 violations in each report. The NCAA then determines whether or not further action is needed by either the school or the conference.

"We're always checking to see if a violation should be Level 1," Vining-Smith said.

Each school has its own penalty structure for violations, but in some cases, such as those of repeat offenders, the league could step in with a letter to the athletic director or penalty recommendations.

Big Ten compliance officials conduct audits of each school every few years, examining coaches' telephone calls, lists of unofficial recruiting visits, etc. Schools also can ask for audits to be conducted. But for the most part, the league leaves its members alone.

"It's not our job to be the police," Vining-Smith said. "We trust our people in place."

The Big Ten and the Big 12 are the only conferences that require drug testing of athletes, and the league compliance office runs the program. Eight hundred tests are conducted throughout the year, both on campus and at Big Ten championship events.

Testing is random and based on the numbers of participants in each sport.

"It's a program of deterrence," said Vining-Smith, who doesn't anticipate having league-run drug tests for every athlete in every sport. "The kids know it's out there."

Most schools also conduct their own testing programs, which vary in severity.