Staley: NCAA rules are preventing the growth of women’s sports

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley tweeted that NCAA rules prevented her from taking a picture with a young fan. Here’s why the NCAA needs to change

Dawn Staley is a rule follower. Just ask her.

“I’m a rules type of gal, meaning you tell me what the rules are, I stay within those rules,” the South Carolina women’s basketball coach told High Post Hoops during a phone call this week.

The conversation was in response to a tweet by Staley, who while down at a recruiting trip in Raleigh, North Carolina, tweeted the following after an interaction with a young fan:

Nothing worse than being in a gym with future ballers….I’m talking young girls who would like to take a pix only to be told we can’t because @NCAA rules.Talk about growing the game?!! Storytellers of our game put pen to paper and write about this.

Staley was talking about NCAA recruiting rules that prevent contact with prospective student athletes during certain times of the year. While Staley understands the purpose behind the no-contact recruiting rules, she takes issue with the extent to which they are applied, especially when trying to be an ambassador for the women’s game.

“I do have an issue with talking out of both sides of your mouth, in that if we’re trying to grow the game, let’s grow the game,” Staley said. “Let’s not allow a young girl to come up to somebody that’s been in the game a long time…and get to the point where we can’t take a picture with a young, aspiring little girl or little boy.”

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, a frequent critic of the NCAA, sees it similarly.

“The rule isn’t sinister, it’s just dumb. It provides no advantage,” Bilas told High Post Hoops. “In my view, the more college coaches interact with young people, the more college is promoted.”

ESPN College GameDay host Jay Bilas (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Staley said that moment in Raleigh, having to turn down a young fan, still drummed up emotion in her because the young girl was excited to see her. When asked how she would have felt had that happened to a young Dawn Staley, she replied, “I would have thought poorly of that. That would have crushed my dreams.”

It seems counterintuitive that while women’s sports are experiencing a transcendent moment while still battling a lack of media coverage and all-around investment, that the NCAA’s rules have not adapted to help grow the women’s game.

When you talk about what advantages schools have in recruiting a player, aesthetics come to mind. Universities investing millions into facilities, new locker rooms, and top-of-the-line athletic gear. These things are celebrated and are certainly meant to entice a player to play to attend that school. Yet the intangibles, having a positive impact on a young player and being an ambassador for the sport, simply due to Staley’s profession as a head coach, can be seen as NCAA violations.

Coach Staley added that for the most part, recruits are not the ones asking for pictures with her and that taking a picture, in and of itself, will not alter whether or not a player attends a certain school.

“You’re not going to not get a kid because they took a picture with Vivian Stringer or me,” Staley said. “You’re not going to lose a kid off that.”

So what needs to be done to ensure that stories like this are not the norm? For starters, the NCAA needs to change. The rule makers, including coaches on committees, need to speak out and stand up. Staley added, “When you put it back on the rule makers, if enough of these instances happen, then they will change the rule.”

The NCAA has had to adjust before, having opposed the legality of Title IX after it was enacted, and most recently, changing its stance on player’s name, image, and likeness compensation rights.

“It’s important that people understand the NCAA is not the government. They enact, enforce, and interpret their own rules,” noted Kerryann Cook, a New York City based attorney.

The media also plays a role. In telling these stories and opening up people’s eyes to the current NCAA restrictions, those in decision-making positions complicit with the status quo can realize that the rules themselves are preventing the growth of the women’s game. Imagine seeing an iconic player, championship coach, and not being able to take a picture with her because of the rules of a multi-billion dollar organization.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Staley grew up watching Mo Cheeks and Dr. J. Things have changed and now young girls in Philadelphia have gotten to grow up watching Dawn Staley, Natasha Cloud, and Elena Delle Donne. Women’s sports are having a moment and it’s time the NCAA catches up, as Staley sees it.

In the words of Coach Staley, “It has to change.”

Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.