Every year, thousands of collegiate athletes participate in NCAA-regulated sports. However, with a small mistake or misunderstanding of NCAA rules and regulations, a collegiate athletic career can come to an end. It's especially important that college students understand the protocol.

Learn About the NCAA

The NCAA is the governing body for college athletes and coaches. The NCAA strives for equal and fair competition among member colleges nationwide. The NCAA categorizes its colleges based on their enrollment. Division I, the highest class, gets the most attention. One of the NCAA rules that is broken the most often is allowing improper benefits to athletes. These benefits can be cash and/or gifts that the athlete receives solely because they are playing sports for the college.

The NCAA also keeps a tight leash on coaches, who can only practice with their players at certain times throughout the year and are limited by several recruiting restrictions.

NCAA Scholarship and Recruiting Rules

Recruiting is the primary way coaches persuade student athletes to join their college's team. Recruiting is broken down into two phases: in-season and off-season recruiting. In-season recruiting allows coaches to contact players by phone or mail while the college season is in effect. Coaches may also invite players to the campus to take a tour and watch a game. The number of invitations is limited by the NCAA.

During off-season recruiting, coaches are allowed to travel and visit players at their homes. The coaches can discuss the benefits of the school and playing for her team. What they cannot discuss is money or hidden incentives the school will offer the prospective athlete if she attends their school. Student athletes are not allowed to receive any benefits from the school other than a free education via a full scholarship.

The NCAA only allows so many scholarships each year, and the number of scholarships differs on the sport. For example, football programs are awarded many more scholarships than a volleyball team. The NCAA also allows "walk-ons," which are defined as athletes who do not receive any financial assistance from financial aid or through a scholarship. They basically pay to be on the team. One of the NCAA walk on rules is that players usually join the team after all the scholarships are filled up.

Meet Admission Standards

Athletes must pass the ACT or SAT and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0 to be declared eligible for college and collegiate sports. Any athlete who fails the ACT or SAT minimum score can retake the test numerous times until the final time the test is offered to seniors. Prospective student-athletes who do not meet the educational minimums are not declared eligible to play in sports by the NCAA. Usually they will have to attend a junior college for two years and hope to transfer to a four-year school, assuming their grades rise.

Admission standards are different for community and junior-college athletes. These athletes need certain credits to transfer, depending on their major, as well as a minimum GPA.

While in college, athletes must maintain a minimum GPA to remain eligible. Coaches may also punish athletes privately for poor attendance or off-field issues.

Don't Take Improper Benefits

As mentioned earlier, the NCAA has a wide range of cash or gifts they label "improper benefits." These include essentially anything that rewards the athlete for playing at a certain college. Coaches have been caught giving players improper benefits, but perhaps more guilty are school boosters who have been known to tempt star athletes, especially at large schools. Boosters generally will promise a lot of cash or special gifts if the athlete is considering skipping school early for the pros.

The NCAA has page upon page of what is considered an illegal benefit. The NCAA rules and regulations manual for new student athletes is literally a bible in itself.

Understand the Rationale for Rules

Because college sports are still considered "amateur," the student athletes must be treated the same way an athlete would be treated in high school. The college athletes cannot receive money for their athletic ability. The only money they receive is money to pay for tuition and books, assuming they are on a full-ride scholarship.

The NCAA rules and regulations ensure competitive levels exist among all colleges. When a school is busted for violating an infraction, the NCAA is generally harsh on its punishment.

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