College Sports

NCAA Poised To Make Sweeping Changes

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)  The NCAA is putting reform on the fast track.

Money to address complaints that scholarships don’t cover the full cost of attendance? Check. Multi-year scholarships? Check. Changes in summer basketball recruiting and postseason bans for poor classroom performance? Check.

All four issues are on the agenda of the NCAA’s Division I board of directors, which is meeting Thursday and is expected to act quickly.

“I fully expect that when you’re making as big of changes as we are, that you’ll need some fine-tuning and adjustments,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told The Associated Press. “But in the past, not getting the fine-tuning right has slowed down the process, and I and the board are committed to moving things along aggressively.”

Why not? Since taking office a little more than a year ago, Emmert has presided over one of the most tumultuous years in NCAA history. Scandals have rocked programs from Boise State to Miami. The reigning national champions in football (Auburn) and men’s basketball (Connecticut) were both investigated by the NCAA, and there have been questions about agents, parents, academic misconduct, improper benefits and even prostitution. The revolving door of conference realignment is still spinning wildly, and the Justice Department is even asking about scholarship rules. School presidents have had enough, and there is momentum to take drastic action now.

“I think the presidents have reached a point where they’re saying too many things are not working well, and the board needs to take stronger actions from the top down rather than from the bottom up,” Penn State’s Graham Spanier said at an August retreat. “We’ve reached a point where we must pay more attention to these academic issues, these integrity issues. 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 us do in the next year.”

Within 24 hours of those comments, the train started rolling. The board toughened the Academic Progress Rate by raising the cutline from 900 to 930, and passed a measure to ban teams from postseason tournaments every time they miss the cutline. Emmert also wants to put that measuring stick in bowl licensing agreements, thereby making it effective for football, too.

The second part of that equation, how and when to impose the new rule, will be determined Thursday. “What we are proposing would not go into effect until the following year (2012-13),” said Walt Harrison, the University of Hartford president and chairman of the committee on academic performance. “We are trying to change behavior, so we have to give people time to adjust.”  That is only a part of this week’s busy agenda. Changes to the long-held scholarship rules have generated the biggest buzz.

Emmert said he supports adding $2,000 per year in scholarship money to cover the full cost of attendance – money that covers more than tuition, room and board, books and fees. Many outsiders consider that a major change to the governing body’s long-held policy on amateurism, a policy Emmert has repeatedly said he will uphold. Until 1972, athletes were receiving $15 per month in “laundry” money.

If the proposal is approved, each conference would decide whether to offer the additional $2,000 to players on full scholarship. The money would have to come out of school budgets, with an equal amount of additional money going to female athletes because of Title IX rules. It’s believed the six BCS conferences will adopt the new rules.
What’s not clear is whether higher costs would push more schools toward the long-feared megaconferences.

“I don’t think so at all,” Emmert said. “It (realignment) is much, much larger in its magnitude and implications than this. So there’s no reason to believe it will start another round of conference realignment at all.”

In addition, the board will consider giving schools the option to award multi-year scholarships. Currently, scholarships are provided on a year-by-year basis, which prompted last spring’s Justice Department inquiry. If the proposal passes, schools could grant scholarships for the maximum time of eligibility — four years for incoming freshmen, less for transfer students.

Tougher academic standards are also up for a vote. Two days after seeing record numbers on the NCAA’s annual Graduation Success Rate, the board will consider a measure that requires high school seniors to maintain a 2.3 GPA and junior college transfers a 2.5 GPA to become eligible immediately. Currently, both groups need to maintain a 2.0 GPA.

Prep players also would have to take 10 of their 16 mandated core courses before their senior year, and juco transfers would be limited in how many physical education credits could count toward eligibility. Those who qualify under the current standards, but fail to meet the new ones, would be granted an “academic redshirt” year in which they could keep the scholarship and practice with their teammates. But they could not participate in games.
Emmert expects the entire package to pass.

Not enough? Summer basketball is back on the agenda.

The new proposal would give coaches a limited recruiting period in April, still allow some contact with recruits in July, provide coaches with some access to their own players during the summer and lift the text messaging ban. Emmert expects that to pass, too.

The board also will hear from two key working groups – one that is looking at a new penalty structure, the other trying to edit the NCAA’s massive rulebook. “They want to focus on the big, broad integrity questions rather than those that are unenforceable or those things that don’t work,” Emmert said of the rulebook committee. “They basically are looking at three things: Is it enforceable, is it consistent with our values and is it material to the overall impact of college sports. What the working group is going to do is ask the board to support that approach, and then we’ll come back and talk about that over the next couple of meetings.”

No changes are expected before the board’s next meeting in January and more likely until April. But clearly, this is a path Emmert and school presidents want to take, and they’re not about to let a few details slow them down.

“The presidents have been unequivocal in trying to do this as quickly as we can,” Emmert said at the retreat. “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, but there is clearly a strong sense of urgency.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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