- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2011

Academic requirements so stringent they would have left national champion Connecticut and six other schools ineligible for the last spring’s NCAA tournament were among a slew of reform proposals outlined by NCAA President Mark Emmert on Monday.

In a sprawling Ritz-Carlton hotel conference room in downtown Washington, Emmert preached a message of radical reform to the like-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

“We need to act with some dispatch,” Emmert said.

Emmert’s ideas drew fawning approval from Knight Commission members, at least until he exited into the lobby filled with chest-high plants and glass sculptures.

“We don’t feel that goes far enough,” co-chairman and University of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan said of Emmert’s reform agenda.

The most visible academic proposal requires a minimum academic progress rate (APR) of 900 to be eligble for postseason play. It would rise to 930 two years after adoption, equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate. Connecticut, which won the NCAA tournament in March, had an APR of 893 and wouldn’t have been eligible under the plan.

If passed, the new APR requirement could start with the 2012-13 school year.

Emmert also supports allowing conferences - at their discretion - to boost athletic scholarships by $2,000 annually to come closer to matching the true cost of attendance. As part of that, schools could offer multiyear scholarships instead of the current year-to-year model.

Emmert bristled at suggestions that any of this resembled paying athletes.

The NCAA’s Division I board of directors will vote on both measures during its Friday meeting in Indianapolis.

Louisiana State University Chancellor Michael Martin and other participants expressed ambivalence about the extra $2,000 for athletes.

Data from the Knight Commission showed the median spending by Football Bowl Subdivision schools in 2009 was $91,053 per athlete - the group was unsure if that figure included athletic scholarship cost - versus $13,471 for nonathlete students.

But Emmert’s to-do list is longer than a rush-hour wait on the Beltway.

After a scandal-filled summer, he wants to revamp the NCAA’s enforcement structure by having four levels of violations - instead of the current primary and secondary - and have “sentencing guidelines.” Emmert called the scandals “annoying in the extreme” and “eroding to everything we cared about.”

He slammed the organization’s excruciatingly detailed rule book as “laughable,” hoping instead for a process that is focused on a desired outcome rather than, say, the three pages in the rule book on what size of envelope can be used to send mail to a recruit.

“This system,” said University of North Carolina President Thomas Ross, a former judge, “is not a good one.”

Emmert also wants to overhaul requirements for initial eligibility and transfers. That includes raising the grade-point average for incoming athletes from 2.0 to 2.3, restricting the number of noncore credits from transfers and adding the option of an academic redshirt for freshmen who don’t fully qualify.

Emmert believes the changes, if passed, would be in place by this time next year.

He was much less definitive on the conference realignment that is altering the landscape of college athletics. As president of the University of Washington, Emmert helped kick off the countrywide game of musical conferences by voting to admit Colorado and Utah and transform the Pac-10 into the Pac-12.

The vitriol, the surprise moves and the seemingly hasty decisions bother him. Emmert compared this period to Europe in June of 1914 before World War I erupted, with each country suspiciously eyeing the other. But Emmert’s authority doesn’t extend to realignment; that belongs to the school presidents and conference commissioners.

“I think we could ultimately end up with two conferences,” LSU’s Martin said, “one called ESPN and one called Fox.”

Laughter followed.

Emmert suggested a 30-day waiting period when a school wants to shift affiliations. And he said - wishfully so, perhaps - that “rationality and calmness” could return to the decision-making process.

But the lure of a conference’s automatic Bowl Championship Series berth, better television contracts, more exposure and more money are powerful intoxicants. The presidents and chancellors expressed distaste and disappointment in the process, but each of their schools or conferences are involved.

“That’s become a status symbol,” Emmert said of the BCS. “We’ve created athletics as a proxy for academic status.”

After Emmert left, Boise State University President Bob Kustra said he thought he knew what the audience was thinking while sitting in a room with silver pots of coffee and little glass bottles of soda where change was discussed for 3 1/2 hours.

“There they go talking again. They do such a great job of it,” Kustra said. “Where’s the action?”

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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