NCAA board likely to approve package of academic reforms

Goal is to better monitor athletes' progress, punish schools for low graduation

Colleges

April 29, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

College presidents and chancellors who make up the NCAA's Division I board of directors will meet today in Indianapolis, where they are expected to approve an academic reform package that will better monitor athletes' progress and take punitive action against schools that fail to meet new guidelines.

University of Kansas chancellor Robert Hemenway, chairman of the 16-person committee, said yesterday that the new legislation will give schools the best chance to keep what he calls "an eternal vigilance" against schools guilty of academic abuse.

"There have been some examples in basketball in particular that have been offensive to most people," Hemenway said in a telephone interview. "There have been some Division I schools that haven't graduated a player in 10 years. That's just unacceptable."

NCAA president Myles Brand, who is expected to recommend that the reform package be adopted, called the measure "a keystone piece of a comprehensive reform effort that began a couple of years ago. It holds the institutions and the teams accountable in a way that was never true in the past."

Under the new system that would begin with the 2004-2005 academic year, schools would receive credit for players who stay eligible and steadily work toward their degrees. By the time a player finishes his senior year of eligibility, he will be required to have completed 80 percent of his academic hours.

Schools that fall below a certain percentage of available credits - around 80-85 percent among its athletes, according to coaches and administrators familiar with the proposal - will be given a public reprimand. If the trend continues, scholarships will be taken away and ultimately a team might not be allowed to participate in postseason play.

"If the student fails in the system, there is not going to be any easy way for a coach to continually funnel kids in and out," said Christine Plonsky, chairwoman of the NCAA's Management Council and women's athletic director at Texas. "If kids aren't matriculating in the future, coaches shouldn't necessarily count on plugging someone else into the scholarship that has been vacated."

Plonsky, whose group voted unanimously to approve the new academic package, said schools will be required to furnish information for the NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance for the current year (2003-2004), but that the results will be used only to tell those programs not meeting the prescribed guidelines to get their houses in order.

The move is aimed to improve the classroom performance of all athletes, particularly men's basketball players, after some alarming numbers were recently revealed about some of the nation's top programs, including the two schools that played for the NCAA title.

The statistic that caused the greatest stir after this year's NCAA men's championship basketball game between Connecticut and Georgia Tech wasn't the final score. It was the reported percentage of players that the champion Huskies and runner-up Yellow Jackets had graduated over the past six years.

That number - 27 percent for each school - had Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt steaming more than after his team's nine-point loss in the final. Hewitt said that three players who graduated from Georgia Tech during the six-year window allowed by the NCAA were not counted - nor were two others who transferred and graduated from other schools.

"In our case, not only are they [statistics] misleading, but they're absolutely false," Hewitt said earlier this week.

With the threat of losing scholarships if progress isn't made and players don't graduate, Hewitt said the reforms could lead to "academic fraud." He said the system would be similar to one perpetuated for years by schools who pushed athletes through by placing them in less-challenging majors.

"Two things are going to happen out of this rule - athletes are going to be encouraged to take the easiest major possible, and if you decide to change majors and you don't have the necessary credits in your major, you're going to become ineligible," Hewitt said.

"The other thing I don't like about this new package is that instead of treating the student athlete like every other student, now we are mandating they graduate and work at a certain pace. One thing that should not be rushed and where everyone should be treated individually is how they get their education."

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics once recommended that teams that failed to graduate at least half of its athletes shouldn't be allowed to participate in the NCAA tournament. If those recommendations were followed, only 21 of the 65 basketball teams would have been eligible this season.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel contributed to this article.

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