I have this nervous twitch. When I hear the loud voices at the NCAA throwing around the word "reform," I grab my back pocket to make sure my wallet is still there. I just can't escape the feeling that I'm somehow being fleeced.
Traditionally, see, the NCAA's idea of getting tough is to, oh, make it illegal for coaches to hand out embossed pencils. To say they avoid the main problems is not unlike saying the Orioles have a savings account. A bit of an understatement.
The NCAA convention in Nashville last week was not much of a departure. Scholarship limits, coaching staffs and practice time were cut. That will save money, which is important in a red-ink era. But it won't affect the general state of hypocrisy.
That won't begin to change until the NCAA addresses the fundamental problem: Too many athletes do not belong in college. Measures that would require athletes to be more legitimate students -- now that would be a good place to start cleaning up the mess.
It is naive, of course, to think any change would be enough to keep people from subverting the system. At this point college sports are just too large and diverse, almost ungovernable. But more can be done.
Here is a proposition: Make a 2.0 average mandatory for eligibility. If you've got it, you play. If you don't, you sit.
A similar measure came up in Nashville and failed resoundingly. And remember, this was supposedly the "reform" convention. (I'm checking my back pocket at this moment.)
The big schools were willing to cut costs because they knew it wouldn't really dilute their product. But make them use real students? Horrors. Now you're hitting where it hurts.
It needs to happen. You aren't so much the hypocrite if you have reasonably legitimate students on your teams. You also won't need to cheat as much.
Consider the root of the Maryland basketball team's current probation. Rudy Archer flunked out because he wasn't interested in going to class. Bob Wade broke rules trying to get him back in school. Of course, Archer no longer belonged at Maryland after demonstrating such indifference.
The wrong thing to do would be to establish guidelines for admission. You shouldn't deprive any reasonable candidate of an opportunity, and it isn't fair to deny on the basis of test scores.
The real test comes once the kid is enrolled. Is he serious? Does he go to class? If he needs help, does he accept it? A 2.0 average is a fair barometer. Anyone below that should be made to concentrate on his classwork.
You don't kick them out of school. You teach them priorities. Maybe it isn't necessary for the 1 percent of the athletes using college as a prelude to professional millions. But the vast majority will need that degree.
A 2.0 minimum would not be the end of the rule-bending, of course. Kids could take easy courses, choose easy majors. Coaches could put pressure on teachers. School presidents would need to be strong. You can only hope more people would be helped than hurt.
Many schools would complain bitterly. Too many scholarship athletes would wind up ineligible, they'd say, and that would cost money. My response: Maybe then you'd start recruiting athletes capable of staying eligible.
Oh, and another proposition: Force schools to release all graduation rates and collective team grade-point averages. Let's get it all in the open, expose the frauds, let kids know what they're getting into.
When "60 Minutes" exposed the Louisville basketball program last month, the reaction among many coaches and administrators was, "Whew. Thank heavens they didn't look at us."
Of course, after watching the academic legislation fail in Nashville last week, it seems foolish to expect any of this ever to become law. But Nashville was notable for one reason. The school presidents took charge. It's a hopeful sign.
The presidents proposed a sizable body of reform (yes, I'm checking back there) legislation, and much of it passed. The schools truly seem to understand that some cleaning up is needed. That there was a threat of congressional intervention was not coincidental.
Anyway, the word now is that the presidents are turning to academics, that they will spend the next year studying the myriad problems and, hopefully, propose reforms at the 1992 convention.
It was said in Nashville that the presidents had gained a significant measure of control. We'll see. Voting to eliminate athletic dorms -- the best thing to come out of Nashville -- is easy compared with voting to maintain academic standards. There will be hot opposition.
If it proves true that the presidents have gained control, here's hoping they propose some intelligent, aggressive reforms, and the NCAA feels compelled to pass them. I don't count on it, though. I'm too used to checking my wallet.