In an attempt to deal with abuses in college sports, the accrediting agency for colleges and universities in the South has drafted new rules that would link academic accreditation with the integrity of an institution's sports programs.
If adopted, the rules would add a potentially powerful weapon in policing college sports. A college that loses its accreditation faces crippling consequences, including a cutoff of federal financial aid to its students.
Although the loss of accreditation would be a last-resort measure, used only in the most egregious situations, the proposal would add a new and serious layer of scrutiny to college athletics. Moreover, the association can impose less severe sanctions as part of the accreditation process.
The organization considering the rules is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the six regional groups responsible for certifying the educational credentials for the nation's colleges and universities.
The association has jurisdiction over institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Richard D. Schultz, executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said he welcomed the move. "I think it is good and can have a salutary effect," he said. "A loss of accreditation is a devastating blow to a university."
The proposals call on colleges and universities to assume clear authority over their athletic departments, such as requiring that the president of each institution take ultimate responsibility for the administrative and financial operations of athletic programs.
They would also require that athletes meet the same academic standards and curriculum requirements as all other students.
The criteria are similar to recommendations made in March by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. That panel, headed by the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, and William E. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, called for the rethinking of the "management and fundamental ++ premises of intercollegiate athletics."
The Southern Association's proposals were recommended by a committee headed by Dr. Ronald E. Carrier, president of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. They are expected to be approved by the steering committee of the association's Commission on Colleges next month, and then acted upon by the association's 800 members next December.