NCAA leaders want fewer rules, harder penalties

Published 1:16 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — NCAA leaders are ready to give college sports a complete overhaul.

They want to simplify the massive 439-page Division I rulebook, enforce stronger penalties for rule-breakers, increase academic standards and link academic performance to possible postseason bans. And if NCAA President Mark Emmert gets his way, all of this would be approved in the next 12 months.

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It’s a far cry from the stodgy, deliberative days of past NCAA administrations.

“What’s different is a lot of things have reached a boiling point,” Penn State president Graham Spanier said after Emmert’s two-day presidential retreat wrapped up Wednesday. “The board of directors has the authority to make some decisions that it has been reluctant to do before, but I think the presidents have reached a point where they’re saying too many things are not working well. So the board needs to take stronger actions from the top.”

Thursday’s board meeting represents the first test to see if that will happen.

A new cutline for the Academic Progress Rate, the calculation used to evaluate whether each team at a school is making sufficient progress toward graduation, was already on the docket. The current cutline is 925. Emmert wants it increased to 930 immediately and perhaps higher in future years.

Failure to meet the cutline, Emmert said, should result in postseason bans in all sports.

“It’s very realistic and it will happen very quickly, meaning this year,” Emmert said. “I think the most important component is how quickly you implement it, so there have been discussions about a sliding scale implementing it two or three years. But we will set that standard very, very quickly and I know the presidents believe that is critical.”

Emmert said he also embraces stronger academic standards for incoming freshmen and junior college transfers. The changes could require freshmen to post higher GPAs and take more core courses in high school, and introduce a sliding scale that incorporates standardized test scores. Junior college transfers also may have to meet new academic standards.

All three have been debated for months in committees, but Emmert wants the presidents to take action now.

It’s just the start.

The NCAA is planning a major rewrite of its complicated rulebook to shed regulations that many in the meetings agreed were unenforceable or nitpicky.

Instead, the presidents plan to put coaches, school administrators and boosters on notice: Breaking the rules now will be costly, though Emmert would not speculate on any possible new sanctions.

The infractions committee could bring back the postseason bans and television bans that became the norm in the 1980s, punishments that never came off the books but have rarely been used over the past decade. Last year, Southern California became the first Football Bowl Subdivision school to get a postseason ban since Alabama’s two-year ban ended in 2003. No FBS team has faced a TV ban since 1996.

It’s something that’s been debated among the membership since October 2008.

A working group is expected to study other possibilities and come up with a standardized list of possible penalties based on the severity of the infractions.

“Some of these things our coaches and our boosters might not like, but I think we need to do what you’re going to see in the next year,” Spanier said. “I think coaches and boosters should now be afraid if they go out and break the rules now because we’re going to de-emphasize the petty stuff and focus on the bigger things. So the cheaters, the rule-breakers, the folks that are trying to disrupt intercollegiate athletics in this country are going to be held more accountable than in the past.”

What prompted all this?

A spate of high-profile cases involving some of college sports’ heaviest hitters. The list includes:

—Southern Cal’s football team, which was stripped of its 2004 national title for rules infractions that also forced Reggie Bush to give back his Heisman Trophy.

—Connecticut’s men’s basketball team, which was found to have committed recruiting infractions two months before winning its third national championship.

—Football teams at Auburn and Oregon, last season’s two BCS finalists. The NCAA determined Cam Newton was not aware of his father’s pay-for-play recruitment scheme. Newton went on to win the Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to the national title. Oregon is under NCAA investigation for allegedly paying $25,000 to a recruiting service that is accused of steering a recruit to the program.

—Tennessee, which is awaiting a ruling on alleged recruiting violations in its football and men’s basketball programs.

—Ohio State, where football coach Jim Tressel resigned amid an investigation into players receiving cash and tattoos for autographs, championship rings and equipment. Tressel allegedly did not notify the school’s compliance department when he was made aware of possible violations. The Buckeyes are scheduled to appear before the infractions committee Friday.

—North Carolina, where football Butch Davis was recently fired after allegations surfaced about improper benefits going to players and academic misconduct.

It has certainly gotten the attention of university leaders and prompted them to re-evaluate all of the regulations schools must comply with.

“You’d be foolish to say that nobody has been paying attention to this over the last year or two or three,” said Oregon State president Ed Ray, chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee. “It’s not any one case in particular but the cumulative effect. I think there’s a realization that the last time we went through the rules and regulations was probably 1999 or 2000 and things have changed a lot since then.”

That movement is already under way.

Last week, the NCAA’s leadership council said it will work on a proposal to deregulate electronic communications and allow unlimited contact between coaches and recruits after Aug. 1 of the player’s junior year.

“We all decided that the rulebook needs some editing,” Emmert said. “We agreed in very short order, meaning months, not years, we will bring a set of reductions in the rulebook that will look at serious threats to intercollegiate athletics and not things like whether a bagel has peanut butter on it or not.”

Ray said the group also discussed policing professional agents, though the presidents intend to let Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s vice president for enforcement, and her staff work on those issues before sending a proposal to the full membership.

On Tuesday, the presidents discussed the possibility of providing scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance at a school, instead of just room, board, tuition and fees, and multiyear scholarships instead of the one-year scholarships now used in college sports.

But one thing is clear: Emmert wants changes and he wants them now.

“The presidents have been unequivocal in trying to do this as quickly as we can,” he said. “The board has full authority to take such actions. They are all issues that various commissions and committees have been working on for months and in some cases years. I wouldn’t describe it as emergency legislation, but there is clearly a strong sense of urgency to get this done.”