Emmert says NCAA changes coming
WASHINGTON -- NCAA president Mark Emmert has had it with bagels and cream cheese.
Not that he won't ever enjoy one again, but Emmert has moved beyond what he calls some of the NCAA's most "laughable" rules that have smeared the organization's reputation. He is instead trying to focus on swift reform during one of the most turbulent times in college athletics. While coaches and players have been "lying, cheating and engaging in academic fraud," Emmert said the NCAA rules are tied up in "painful, brutal, laughable detail," like whether cream cheese on a bagel elevates it from a snack to an unapproved meal for recruits.
It's time to get serious.
Under one of the NCAA proposals on the table this week, seven teams that played in the NCAA tournament last year -- including national champion Connecticut -- would not have even stepped on the court last postseason because their Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores would not have qualified them, according to Emmert.
"That's where it needs to hit people," Knight Commission member Len Elmore said, "right between the eyes."
Several NCAA proposals that are currently on the table should definitely open some.
A wide range of topics was discussed on Monday morning at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Washington, where the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics met with Emmert, Boise State president Robert Kustra, LSU chancellor Michael Martin and North Carolina president Thomas Ross. Emmert revealed several proposals that will bypass the NCAA's normal, sluggish legislative process and be put on the fast track for a vote Thursday by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors.
This is not the NCAA you're used to. In August, the Board of Directors approved a plan to increase the APR requirement for teams to participate in postseason play. Decisions could be made as early as this week, or by the board's next scheduled meeting in January -- a far cry from the 12-18 months it usually takes such decisions to be made.
Among the changes up for consideration:
• A postseason eligibility requirement of a 900 APR score over a four-year, rolling period, increasing to 930 the following year. Schools that don't make the cut will miss tournaments -- and bowl games. When this would go into effect and how it would be implemented should be determined Thursday morning.
• An increase in grant-in-aid up to $2,000 and not exceeding the full cost of attendance and permitting multiyear scholarships. These measures would not be mandatory, but conferences would be free to implement them at their discretion.
• Increase the initial eligibility requirements of junior college transfers from a 2.0 grade point average to 2.5, and increase the initial eligibility requirements from 2.0 to 2.3.
• A freshman academic redshirt model that will allow athletes the full benefit of an athletic scholarship, no competition, for students who don't meet the full eligibility requirements. It's similar to the old partial-qualifier model.
"The presidents and I are adamant about making significant changes that will shift the dynamics that are going on in college athletics, and we're doing so in rapid order," Emmert said. "Proposals will not go through normal legislative cycles. They're getting voted on right now.
"We're taking it right from the group, taking it right to the [Division I Board of Directors]. If they like it, they'll vote on it and it will go into effect."
The presidents and I are adamant about making significant changes that will shift the dynamics that are going on in college athletics, and we're doing so in rapid order. Proposals will not go through normal legislative cycles. They're getting voted on right now.
--NCAA president Mark Emmert
There are lot of things the NCAA can regulate, and these are bold steps in the right direction, but college football's BCS system and conference expansion -- issues raised by the Knight Commission -- aren't on the fix-it list. In fact, Emmert seems to be a fan of the current BCS system, and he is very clear that he wants the NCAA to stay away from weighing in on expansion. There is still a sense of panic among many conferences and university presidents as the uncertainty of conference realignment looms. Because of antitrust laws, the NCAA's hands are tied.
"I don't know where it's going to head," said Ross, whose football program will have a hearing before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Friday. "There's no one in control, and that's really the problem."
Martin joked everyone should create "annual conferences" and said that the current leagues will probably dissolve into "two enormous conferences, one called ESPN and one called FOX."
Kustra said he is "guilty as charged," and is absolutely interested in conference realignment if it means automatic qualifying status for his No. 4-ranked Broncos.
Emmert did suggest a mandated discussion period of 30 days before universities switch allegiances and said there needs to be more transparency in the decision-making process.
"At the end of the day, university presidents in particular have to feel good about trusting each other," Emmert said. "They have to sit down and do business together. We've seen some erosion of that trust and confidence this year and that bothers me a lot."
The only ones who can fix that, though, are the university presidents. The NCAA is wrapped up in issues it can actually have an impact on, and it needs to continue to be aggressive. Emmert spoke of the need for significant changes to the rules enforcement process and the need for coaches, administrators and third parties, such as agents, to be held accountable, and he should seek help at the professional levels in pursuing those aims.
These problems didn't happen overnight, and they're not going to be solved by Thursday or in January, but Emmert is ready to begin the process of long-overdue reform. In Indianapolis, if Emmert can get the decision-makers around him to buy into the proposed changes, it could start to make a dent at the root of some of the problems.
"I think they'll help enormously," Emmert said of the proposals. "The changes in rules and changes in enforcement process will make a big difference as soon as they come into play, which is about a year from now before they're actually enforced. At the same time, it immediately sends a message of where we're going, what we want to see, and what we'll tolerate. That's very important in and of itself. Everyone knows at the end of the day you don't legislate morality. If people are going to do bad things, they're going to do bad things."
Eating a bagel with cream cheese, though, is no longer at the top of the list.
Heather Dinich is the ACC college football blogger for ESPN.com.