NASHVILLE,TENN — NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It is a rare day at a rare National Collegiate Athletic Association convention when one group of delegates gains control of the future of college sports.
Yesterday was that bright and shining day for the NCAA Presidents Commission.
In the parliamentary equivalent of a slam-dunk, the presidents pushed through, virtually intact, a full agenda of cost-cutting legislation that leaves few areas of sports spending unscathed.
Under rules changes approved yesterday by Division I schools, coaching staffs will be reduced in virtually every sport, football and men's basketball, the NCAA sacred cows, included. Recruited athletes in football and men's basketball will be making fewer paid visits to college campuses. Specially catered meals for athletes are permissible only once each day. Segregated living quarters for athletes become extinct.
Today or perhaps tomorrow, the Presidents Commission will go for a clean sweep when the convention considers legislation, sponsored by the chief executives, regarding new limits on athletic scholarships. If that, too, is a winner, only decorum would prevent the presidents from celebrating their victories with a round of button-down high-fives.
Several presidents sought to dispel the perception that they had succeeded over their reluctant athletic directors and coaches.
"A lot of the athletic directors I've talked to are out in front on this issue," said Hunter Rawlings III, the University of Iowa president. "They want to be right there with the presidents. I don't see this as a pitched battle between the two."
Rawlings acknowledged that the presidents had forced the convention to focus on reform. But he cautioned that the rules changes approved yesterday are only a start.
"And frankly, I don't think it's a very big start," Rawlings said. "But it's promising."
During a six-hour business meeting of 295 Division I schools, convention delegates passed 12 of 12 rules changes presented under the heading of cost reduction. The proposals were developed by an NCAA special committee whose chairman was Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Gene Corrigan. They were quickly embraced by the 44-member Presidents Commission, which has sponsored them at this convention.
Before the convention, NCAA officials estimated that if the entire cost-cutting package succeeded, athletic departments could save up to $600,000. The rules changes approved so far would net considerably less, at least for the University of Maryland. Andy Geiger, the Maryland athletic director, said yesterday's votes on coaching limits would affect only the Terps' basketball and football staffs, each of which is likely to be reduced by one. He said the overall annual savings to the department so far was less than $100,000.
Although they do not vote, several football coaches came to the convention to lobby against the coaching cuts and to predict that the ultimate losers would be players.
Illinois coach John Mackovic, Brigham Young University coach LaVell Edwards and Michigan State coach George Perles urged the convention not to take away coaches, who they said also served players as teachers and counselors.
"I would just say, we need our coaches not only on the field, but to help with [players'] social lives and with their problems. We're parents away from home," Perles said.
But the tide for reform was so strong that other prominent speakers decided not to address the convention at all. Penn State coach Joe Paterno, for instance, attended, but decided not to speak because the will of the convention was so clear.
"This was done before we got here," said Paterno, who seemed not to regard the reductions as a serious setback.
But Paterno was prepared to defend his turf if necessary. Yesterday's agenda included a number of proposed amendments, all failed, to protect current coaching levels in select sports, in wrestling and baseball. If any had succeeded, Paterno said he would have gone on the offensive.
Instead, Paterno said, "It wasn't close."
The cuts in Division I-A football coaching staffs reduce full-time assistants only from nine to eight. However, the new rules eliminate six graduate assistant coaches and replace them with four "restricted earnings" coaches whose salaries will be no more than $12,000 per year unless they are enrolled at the university as a graduate student. In that case, they can receive the cost of graduate tuition.
A rundown of the most significant cost-cutting rules changes approved yesterday at the 85th annual NCAA convention:
1. Reduction in campus visits permitted by Division I basketball and Division I-A football recruits. Beginning Aug. 1, the number of visits allowed for football will be cut from 85 to 70 while, for basketball, visits will be reduced from 18 to 15. Football passed, 97-9. Basketball passed, 298-19, with one abstention.