- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2011

PINEHURST, N.C. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive devoted much of his address at his league’s media days last week to reform of college athletics.

His Atlantic Coast Conference counterpart did the same Sunday.

The ACC’s John Swofford argued different ideas pertaining to enforcement, the guarantees of athletic scholarships and how to handle the commercialism inherent to 21st century college athletics should be discussed.

Peppering his discussion with references to college sports reaching both a “tipping point” and a “crossroads,” Swofford advocated placing greater resources into the largest problems facing schools, conferences and the NCAA.

“I think we’re at a point where enough’s enough,” Swofford said. “In order to protect the enterprise and something that’s a wonderful part of the culture of this country, we have to slow down, back up, re-evaluate, find other ways to do things and not sit here and try to act like everything is hunky-dory and everything’s good and not acknowledge we have a lot of challenges out there.”

That includes his own league, where one school was slapped with NCAA sanctions this month and another awaits its fate after spending much of the last year under a microscope.

Georgia Tech was fined and forced to vacate its 2009 ACC title after the NCAA found it used an ineligible player. North Carolina - whose coach, Butch Davis, could face a media blitz Monday even greater than last year, when accusations against his program had just surfaced - is accused of nine major NCAA violations stemming from academic misconduct and impermissible benefits.

“Anytime one of our schools has an NCAA problem, whichever one it is, I’m disappointed and concerned because that’s not who we are as a league,” Swofford said. “You don’t step back from what your cornerstones are and what you’re all about. You try to fix it and move forward.”

It’s hardly a regional problem, with Auburn, Ohio State and Oregon all at least accused of wrongdoing. Louisiana State was placed on probation and Tennessee self-imposed penalties last week. Connecticut’s basketball program was punished earlier this year as well.

Swofford praised measures taken by Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s second-year president. Emmert will hold a retreat next month for about 50 university leaders, including five presidents and one athletic director from the ACC.

Swofford produced few specifics - certainly not to the degree suggested by Slive, who proposed far stricter initial eligibility standards than currently exist and an upgrade in academic requirements at the high school level to help prevent fraud.

Swofford did, though, argue for at least the study of several possibilities. He declined to endorse a four-year guaranteed scholarship or a two-year guarantee followed by the possibility of renewal (which differs from the current annual renewal), but suggested those options at least be investigated even if there is opposition to a massive overhaul.

“Change that is significant and meaningful often comes with some pain,” Swofford said.

Repeatedly, Swofford returned to three tenets: competitive success, academic achievement and rules compliance. Long before delving into his concerns about the present state of affairs, he rattled off (as he often does at this event) his league’s feats on the field and in the classroom.

Invariably, though, the other item on his platform domineered much of the discussion during a turbulent time.

“I think winning is really important,” he said. “But if you have to cheat to win, you really haven’t won at all, have you?”

Considering the activity around the college sports landscape recently, it’s tough to tell just how many agree with Swofford’s sentiment.

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