WASHINGTON -- After 18 months of study, interviews with 89 sports officials and countless hours of discussion about how to fix what seemingly grows less fixable each day, the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics unveiled yesterday a blueprint for reforming college sports that seemed full of hope, if short of new ideas.
Echoing a refrain heard often at last year's National Collegiate Athletic Association convention, the commission declared that college presidents should be in the vanguard of efforts to restore integrity to athletic departments.
"We'd love to put the sleaziness of intercollegiate athletics to rest. If presidents do not take on this task, it isn't going to be done," said the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and co-chairman of the Knight Commission, a 22-member panel studying ways to cure college sports' ills.
At a news conference yesterday, Hesburgh and William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system and the other co-chairman, referred to a model that is a recurring theme in the 37-page commission report.
The model calls on the presidents to assert their control over their athletic departments and to show that control in their oversight of academic integrity, financial practices and a periodic certification of athletic departments to ensure that they comply with NCAA rules.
Few of the ideas are new to the discussion of reforming college sports, but commission members said that should not be the test of the group's work.
"What is radically new about [the recommendations] are their completeness," said commission member Thomas K. Hearn Jr., president of Wake Forest University and a member of the NCAA Presidents Commission, which pushed through a raft of legislation at the last NCAA convention to reduce the size and cost of college athletic programs.
"We don't have the time or resources to put together a road map such as this. Now we have a broad agenda. It's enormously valuable."
Some commission members were less enthusiastic. Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, a vocal critic of NCAA efforts to reform college sports, said the Knight report "had a lot of good in it," but he said of the recommendations, "I'm in the minority. I don't think they have gone far enough."
Among the proposed reforms:
* Athletic scholarships should be guaranteed for five years rather than one year. The change would allow students whose four years of athletic eligibility have been exhausted to return to school to earn their degrees. In addition, it would prevent coaches from removing a player from the scholarship rolls simply because he or she is no longer a valuable player.
* All outside income for coaches should be reviewed by college officials, and shoe companies would be banned from negotiating deals with coaches. If those companies wanted players at prominent basketball schools to wear their shoes, they would negotiate the contracts with the universities, not individual coaches.
* Universities should submit to occasional, independent review of academic policies in their athletic departments, including admission of athletes, their academic progress and their graduation rates. If players didn't meet the standards of others students at a school, the athletic department could be banned, for instance, from playing in national championships.
A certification system apparently is not far off. The NCAA is in the middle of a two-year pilot program that is strikingly similar to what the Knight Commission's report has endorsed.