Walk-On U, LLC, is gathering nationwide support from college coaches, athletic directors, athletic department support staff, conference officials, current and former student-athletes (male and female), and general sports fans across America.
The Inclusion Petition into the NCAA is seeking change to rules that segregate, are unjust, and unreasonable to the “collegiate walk-on student-athlete." Spanning five decades of rejection every time a member institution stood up for the walk-on players, they were met with denial and rebuffed by the NCAA cabinets, committees, and executive boards.
According to the 2013–2014 NCAA Division I Manual (click to download PDF for free) by definition, (12.02.9 Student Athlete, page 58), walk-on’s become official student-athletes once he/she “reports for an intercollegiate squad that is under the jurisdiction of the athletics department.”
The mission of the NCAA is to protect and care for their well-being. Directly from the manual on page xiv: The Commitment to Student-Athlete Well-Being; Intercollegiate athletic programs shall be conducted in a manner designed to enhance the well-being of student-athletes who choose to participate… Each member institution should also provide an environment that fosters fairness, sportsmanship, safety, honesty and positive relationships between student-athletes and representatives of the institution.
From page 3 of the 2013-14 NCAA Division I Manual: 2.2 The Principle of the Student-Athlete Well-Being. Intercollegiate athletics programs shall be conducted in a manner designed to protect and enhance the physical and educational well-being of student-athletes.
And from their website NCAA.org, Healthy and Safety: “The NCAA was founded in 1906 to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time. Today, student-athlete health, safety and well-being remain among our top priorities.”
But, is that really true for all student-athletes? What about walk-on student athletes? Shockingly, some of the vital care, well-being, and protection is not extended to Walk-On Student-Athletes.
It is a proven fact, a universal truth, that proper nutrition is critical to the athletic development, performance, and safety of athletes. Today, thousands of meetings, media interviews, and analytical articles are revealing the realities of player safety and the importance of nutrition. The topic of player safety is at an all-time high at this very moment and to deprive any athlete of the utmost protection is incomprehensible. Providing some athletes with all the tools necessary to succeed, but forcing other athletes to pay for the necessities required to perform at their peak level, or to keep them from being as safe as possible, is absolutely unacceptable in 2014.
Thankfully, concussion care organizations are meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and with the United Nations organization in New York. These discussions are vital and the immediate importance is monumental. However, missing from these historic conversations is the plight of the collegiate walk-on. Not because these organizations do not care, but because they have no idea these things are actually happening today. This Inclusion Petition will be sent to them.
Regretfully, the all-too-often isolated and disrespected walk-on student-athletes are forgotten and cast by the wayside. They are desperately needed for practice, but they are not truly taken care of behind the scenes. The playing field is not level and they do not have a voice.
THREE CHANGES NEEDED IMMEDIATELY IN THE NCAA MANUAL:
1) Overturn the current Training Table rule16.5.2 (C) and allow ALL student-athletes, in ALL sports, male and female, to participate in training table without having to pay for it.
2) Make mandatory NCAA Bylaw 16.4 Medical Expenses that all member institutions cover the medical insurance of all their student-athletes who have officially made and joined the team, including walk-ons, while they are under the jurisdiction of their coaches.
3) Change Bylaw 14.5.5 to allow walk-ons, who are without athletic department aid for tuition, books, and room & board, to transfer schools without the penalty of having to sit out a full year.
CHANGE NUMBER ONE: TRAINING TABLE 16.5.2 (C), page 219 in NCAA Manual
The NCAA does not allow walk-on student-athletes to nourish their bodies when the institution is providing TRAINING TABLE unless the walk-on pays for it. The NCAA board members and decision makers site the training table meal as a benefit of being on scholarship and therefore it should NOT be given to walk-ons. The NCAA allows walk-ons to tear their bodies down through rigorous participation in their sport and in the weight room, but does not feel it is their obligation or duty to protect these walk-ons by aiding them in building their bodies back up – contradictory to the NCAA mantra: Our Commitment to Student-Athlete Well-Being.
Student-athletes are provided training table meals to fuel their bodies in preparation to represent their schools. It is a little-known fact that almost all people associated with the athletic program get to eat for free. The scholarship players, the coaches, the equipment managers, the student managers, the medical trainers, the student-trainers, athletic department personnel, practice day referees, and invited local media staff can attend training table after practice for a hearty meal without opening their wallet.
However, the minority group of players, the walk-ons, who spend equal time preparing, going to the same meetings, working out in the same weight room, and practicing on the same field, suffering brutal hits, cuts and bruises, must pay for the privilege of eating at training table with their own teammates and healing their bodies. Walk-ons must look after their own Well-Being.
CHANGE NUMBER TWO: MEDICAL EXPENSES 16.4, page 218 in NCAA Manual
The NCAA states in section 16.4 of their manual that an institution may provide medical and related expenses and services to a student-athlete. The word may should be changed to must. Is it not just, right, and noble for every institution to cover the insurance needs of the very student-athletes they desperately rely on in admittedly-dangerous practice sessions? Unfortunately based on economic interests, most member institutions take advantage of the term may and force walk-ons to pay for their own insurance. Institutions may not build their team around walk-ons, but upon the walk-ons’ backs they build their team.
CHANGE NUMBER THREE: FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE TRANSFERS 14.5.5, page 174 in NCAA Manual
The NCAA’s transfer rules were implemented to deter high profile scholarship student-athletes from jumping from school to school and joining the teams with the best records or the best chance to play. While that rule is a hot topic of discussion within today’s media about the validity of keeping the rule, it certainly should have no bearing on walk-ons.
Walk-ons are very rarely considered game-day capable due to preconceived notions by coaches and their desire to play the scholarship elite. They are almost always sent to the scout team (practice squad) with little to no chance of ever playing in a real game. Unfortunately, too many schools don’t even list walk-ons in their media guide. Or, if they do, you may just see their name and position. Many walk-ons were All-Stars in high school with dozens of accolades to their credit. Yet, unlike the scholarship players with the long biographies, even the recruited or preferred walk-ons get little more than a mere mention of their existence in the media guide.
The NCAA has no interest in a walk-ons’ academic achievements as we know from 188.8.131.52 Academic Performance Program, page 9 in NCAA Manual. Member institutions must submit compliance data to the NCAA showing the Academic Performance Rate (APR), the Academic Performance Census (APC) and the Graduation Success Rate (GSR). Interestingly enough, this academic program is only for student-athletes receiving financial aid (scholarship players). There is no interest from the NCAA in the academic performance of walk-on student-athletes. Yet, should a walk-on want to transfer they are penalized as though they were a scholarship student-athlete.
Walk-ons are the minority on each college sports team, yet they are not included in The Office of Inclusion of the NCAA. On their website (www.ncaa.org) the NCAA INCLUSION states; “We seek to establish and maintain an inclusive culture that fosters equitable participation for student-athletes…”
Inconsistently, walk-ons are not afforded equitable participation in the critically invaluable nutritious training table meals giving them even less of a fighting chance to defend themselves against the vicious blows they invariably receive.
Illogically, it is not mandatory that each member institution cover medical insurance for the walk-on, the quintessential student-athlete, representing the NCAA and his or her school so valiantly and in exemplary fashion.
Irrationally, with little to no media information or financial aid from the athletic department, and no interest from the NCAA in their academic achievements, walk-ons are held hostage when they wish to transfer schools, losing a year of eligibility and treated as a full scholarship player.
Ironically, walk-ons are excluded when they should be included (training table, insurance) and included when they should be excluded (transferring).
It is now time for walk-ons to have a fair and just place within the NCAA Manual. It is high time that walk-ons get treated with a little respect. Walk-ons are not seeking a large stipend check each month. Walk-ons are not seeking to unionize or create tension. But, for their admirable dedication to their schools’ athletic program, they just want medical coverage and a seat at the table, the training table.
It is widely reported that most NCAA institutions pay their head football coach’s seven-figure salaries and their assistants make healthy six-figure incomes. It is also reported the top NCAA executives also rake in fantastic earnings.
The NCAA newly-signed television deals with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting will bring in north of $11.8 BILLION dollars over a 14-year period. The NCAA states they distribute 96% of its revenue directly to their membership base. There is no question the finances are available to cover the added expenses of insurance and training table for all walk-ons.
The United States of America was built on capitalism. I applaud anyone who can get paid what they are worth and I am not offended by the money listed above. But, to make enormous sums of money in wages at the expense, or off the backs of those who are giving everything of themselves, yet receiving nothing, is deplorable.
If you take care of the people at the bottom of the pyramid forming the foundation, everything else will fall into place. Take care of the people who take care of you is a philosophy that should equally apply to walk-ons.
The time for change is NOW! WALK-ONS in all sports, male and female MUST be taken care of and given the best chance to succeed and stay safe. Because of, and due to their services, all walk-ons deserve the same protections and fuel to propel them forward during the daily grind of college athletics highest competition.
Because of the health and safety at issue here, the NCAA board has the right and the obligation to act and vote immediately without waiting until their annual meeting in January, 2015. These changes should take effect by the start of the school year in September, 2014. The impact of walk-ons is invaluable, but their voice is rarely heard. Collectively, we seek this moment for positive change and we are relying on the NCAA to do the right and just thing. This is a defining moment in the history of the Well-Being of Student-Athlete Walk-Ons who have been shunned for too long.
About the Author: Tim Lavin wrote and published; WALK-ON U: The Shocking Truth Behind Football’s Unsung Underdogs. Released in October of 2013, Lavin is fighting for change for walk-ons of today and tomorrow. The plight of walk-ons is carefully detailed along with numerous interviews including the likes of Tom Osborne, Lou Holtz, Terry Donahue, Dabo Swinney, Karl Mecklenburg, and Mike Sherrard. As a walk-on at USC, Lavin earned a football scholarship and knows both sides of the fence all too well. He’s exposing the truth, showcasing the success stories, and fighting for the end of segregation of walk-ons within the NCAA. The soft cover book and additional information can be found at www.WalkOnU.com and the ebook version is listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
cc: Mark Emmert, President NCAA
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Congress of the United States: House of Representatives
Energy & Commerce Committee. -- (Improving Sports Safety: A Multifaceted Approach,
March 13, 2014 Hearing)