The NCAA has sent a new memo to athletic conferences acknowledging that it has for many years barred schools from awarding a "game ball" to an athlete -- but also emphasizing that the rule is being changed.
The purpose of the memo, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, appears to be to clarify the NCAA's position.
The position came into question after an NCAA spokeswoman told The Sun recently: "A student-athlete can keep a game ball."
In fact, the NCAA legislative services staff -- in a 1996 "interpretation" -- had concluded otherwise. The staff wrote then that "it is not permissible to award game balls to student-athletes for specialized performances in particular contests ... "
The latest memo cites that old interpretation and says it is being revisited.
"Recently, the media asked the staff whether it is permissible for a student-athlete to receive a game ball as a result of his or her performance in a particular contest," the memo says.
"Under current legislation, awards for specialized performances in a single contest may only be provided by the conference and an outside organization (e.g., local business) and must be a certificate, medal or plaque limited to $80 in value."
The NCAA says its position is evolving.
It says in the memo that it believes "institutions should have discretion to decide whether to provide an award of nominal value such as a game ball (e.g., football, basketball, softball, baseball etc.) based on performance or achievement in a single contest for a limited time period, not just to recognize an extraordinary achievement."
The memo said the staff will recommend to the Division I Legislative Review and Interpretations Committee that the old rule be scrapped.
The issue was first raised when Maryland, citing the NCAA interpretation, said it could not award game balls to football players until their college careers were over.
The school's football program, which was criticized by ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann, said it was only following the rules.