SEC policy to make cheaters accountable

DESTIN, Fla. -- Dave Odom knew the Southeastern Conference
had an image problem when he talked recently with a colleague from
another major league about scheduling a game.

"He told me there were only four teams in the SEC he would
play," said Odom, the men's basketball coach at South Carolina.

The message was clear: Two-thirds of the SEC's 12 schools should
be avoided because they played loose with the rules.

Acknowledging its reputation as a renegade conference, the SEC
approved a policy Wednesday that is designed to reduce the sort of
cheating that has put a constant stream of schools at odds with the

The policy is designed to streamline the process for reporting
violations and make schools more accountable for keeping their
people in line.

"Obviously, we needed do something," Auburn football coach
Tommy Tuberville said. "I think this is the right road to take.
We'll see."

Four SEC schools -- Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky -- are
currently on probation. Georgia and Mississippi State recently
admitted to rules violations but have yet to be sanctioned by the

Over the past decade, nearly every league school has been
accused of malfeasance, some more than once. The SEC's reputation
for athletic excellence has been tarnished by recruiting scandals
and academic fraud.

"This is the first time in the history of the league that we've
all come together in the process, looked each other in the eye and
acknowledged the issues we've had," SEC commissioner Mike Slive
said. "We don't want them to happen anymore."

At its annual spring meeting on Florida's gulf coast, the SEC
unanimously approved the recommendations of the "Task Force on
Compliance & Enforcement." Slive has set a goal of having all SEC
schools off probation by the summer of 2007.

A centerpiece of the new policy: If one school suspects another
of violating NCAA rules, they must follow a strict protocol for
reporting the allegations.

For instance, if a coach at School A believes someone at School
B has broken a rule, he must report those concerns to his own
athletic director. The AD would determine if the information should
be reported to the SEC office, which would make a similar decision
before passing along the allegations to School B. That school must
conduct its own investigation and report back to Slive within 30

The new policy, which might become known as the "Phillip Fulmer
Rule," is supposed to give coaches a clear-cut policy for dealing
with suspicious behavior by a rival school.

Fulmer, the Tennessee football coach, told an NCAA investigator
in 2000 that he suspected improper dealings between Alabama
boosters and recruits. While assured of confidentiality, Fulmer's
claims were revealed during a federal lawsuit that claims he was
part of a conspiracy to bring down the Crimson Tide football

The NCAA wound up placing Alabama on probation for five years,
including major scholarship reductions and a two-year ban on
playing in a bowl.

"I think everybody has gotten the message that this is the way
things need to be," Fulmer said. "We want to have the reputation
around the country that the SEC is not only a great conference
academically and athletically, but we do things the right way."

Asked if he felt the new policy grew out of his embarrassing
allegations against Alabama, Fulmer replied, "I hope not."

Gene Marsh, an Alabama law professor and member of the task
force, said it was important that anyone who suspected wrongdoing
will know how their concerns are being addressed.

"People have complained that they would raise an issue, then
never hear how it was resolved," he said. "Now, there are
absolute lines of authority about who's reporting and who's got the
responsibility for investigating."

Still, the new policy provides no penalties for a school that
doesn't comply with the reporting guidelines. Slive is counting on
"peer pressure" to keep members in line, which could be difficult
given the SEC's track record.

When Odom was coaching in the Atlantic Coast Conference, he was
amazed at all the rule-breaking that seemed to prevail in the SEC.
Coaches talked openly about paying for players and bragged that
they had their own system of checks, balances and avoiding the

"I'd say, 'How in the heck do you get by with that stuff,"
Odom recalled. "They'd say, 'Hey, local rules prevail. We take
care of our own. If something happens, we deal with it on our
own.' "

The SEC is now urging schools to shy away from hiring coaches
who have run afoul of NCAA rules at other institutions.

In addition, the SEC plans to spend more time educating everyone
involved in its athletic programs -- from presidents to secretaries
-- on the importance of complying with NCAA guidelines.

"The commissioner is very committed to helping clean things
up," Georgia football coach Mark Richt said. "No conference is
perfect. But certainly we want to do a better job."

The SEC's task force recommendations:

-- If coaches suspect wrongdoing at another member school, they
must report to their own athletic director, who will decide whether
to forward the allegations to the SEC. The commissioner will judge
whether to send the allegations to the accused school, which must
investigate the charges and report back within 30 days. The NCAA
also will be notified if necessary.

-- Allegations from outside the conference will be handled in a
similar manner, going first to the commissioner and then to the
accused school if necessary.

-- Schools will conduct their own investigations, with oversight
by the SEC office. The conference may recommend that an outside
firm work with the school during the inquiry.

-- Schools are urged to "exercise great care" before hiring
coaches who have violated NCAA rules, especially if they were
involved in unethical conduct or major violations at another

-- The SEC and its schools will develop new programs to educate
athletic directors, coaches, trustees and other university
personnel on rules compliance.

-- An outside firm will study compliance programs at all SEC
schools over the next four years. The first round of reviews will
look at recruiting, eligibility, financial aid and administration
issues, the second round will address the needs at each school.

-- The SEC commissioner and other league officials will visit
every school this year to discuss the importance of rules
compliance. The meetings will be scheduled to ensure the best
possible attendance from administrators, coaches and athletic
department personnel. Student athletes may sit in, as well.

-- An annual report on violations during the preceding year will
be conducted by school presidents, chancellors, athletic directors
and faculty representatives. This is designed to ensure
accountability and put "peer pressure" on schools to obey NCAA