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Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Panel mulls simplifying NCAA rulebook

By Brian Bennett
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tougher penalties for cheaters, higher academic standards that could keep some teams out postseason tournaments and a streamlined rule book are some of the radical changes that NCAA leaders hope to adopt after a two-day presidential retreat.

Some of those changes could start to become reality as soon as Thursday when the Division I board of directors convenes. The presidents say they're that serious about reining in some of the excesses and rule-breaking that are rampant in college sports.

"Things have reached a boiling point," Penn State president Graham Spanier. "Some of these things our coaches and our boosters might not like. But we need to do what I think you're going to see happen in the next year."

The proposals came out of a two-day retreat organized by NCAA president Mark Emmert that brought together more than 50 university presidents, plus a handful of conference commissioners, athletic directors and other leaders. Emmert said there was strong consensus to move forward quickly on a number of major changes, including:

• Stricter enforcement of major infractions. Emmert said he wants to see penalties for NCAA violations that not only provide a disincentive to cheat "but in fact a healthy fear of being caught."

The penalties the NCAA can use, such as bowl bans and barring coaches from working at other programs, won't change. But Emmert said those punishments will be handed down, schools will understand the range of sentencing possibilities and that NCAA enforcement and investigative staffs will be beefed up to go after rule-breakers.

Emmert also said the NCAA would focus on the schools and programs "that make the biggest impact on college athletics" while not spending nearly as much time prosecuting minor violations.

"Coaches and athletes and boosters should be afraid if they're going to go out and break any rules, because people have had enough of that," Spanier said. "The folks that are trying to disrupt the integrity of intercollegiate athletics in this country are going to have to be held more accountable."

• Higher academic standards both for incoming players and programs. The NCAA implemented the Academic Progress Rate in 2004 as a way to measure how teams were graduating and retaining their players. Teams that score below 925 on the APR four-year average are subject to penalties like loss of scholarships.

Emmert said the presidents agreed that it's time to increase the baseline score, most likely to 930. And teams that score below that level now could be held out of postseason tournaments. To put that in perspective, 12 teams in this year's NCAA basketball tournament scored below 930, while national champion Connecticut had a 930.

Judy Genshaft, chairwoman of the Division I board of directors, said her group could approve the new 930 cutoff as soon as Thursday. Emmert said any tournament bans would likely not take place for another year or two.

"We have to make the decisions now and let everyone know what's coming," he said. The presidents also proposed higher test scores and curriculum requirements for incoming freshmen and junior college transfers.

• Rewriting the NCAA rulebook. The current NCAA manual is a 434-page manuscript that has long been criticized for being too arcane. Even long-time coaches sometimes claim not to understand the rules they have broken.

The presidential group expressed strong support for what Emmert called "some serious editing." Their goal is to streamline the rules handbook and get rid of outdated rules that prevent coaches from communicating via text messaging and other technology. "We'd love to probably throw the rule book out and start all over again, but that's actually impractical," Emmert said.

Instead, the rules will focus more on major infractions like paying players and less on the minor ones like bumping into recruits at an all-star game. Emmert said the NCAA will also stop defining every violation as only either major or secondary and will come up with a multi-tiered system.

Emmert said changing the rule book would take "a monumental bit of work," but that he wants it in place by next April. No rule book, of course, can stop cheaters from finding a loophole.

"We didn't get here by accident," Duke athletic director Kevin White said. "We've all tried for years to gain a competitive advantage over one another. I don't know how we streamline it, but that's clearly an objective."

The integrity and academic discussions came a day after the presidents decided to move forward with proposals that would allow individual conferences to offer players full cost-of-attendance scholarships and multi-year grants if they so choose.

Major policy changes like these often take years to advance through the NCAA system or get stuck in committees. But the presidential group insisted this week that they're prepared to pass these rules from the top down, because they want to take back control of college sports.

"It's time for tough love," California-Riverside chancellor Tim White said. "Otherwise, the overall enterprise will not be able to be sustained. The American public deserves this."

Brian Bennett covers Big Ten and Notre Dame football for ESPN.com.