Keenum: School Presidents Have ‘Real Sense of Urgency’

Mississippi State president Mark Keenum was among the approximately 50 Division I presidents who attended an NCAA retreat in Indianapolis earlier this week. NCAA president Mark Emmert organized the gathering in order to discuss some issues that are dominating the college landscape.

The retreat was held Tuesday and Wednesday, and the presidents established five priorities for the NCAA to address:

• Rewrite the NCAA rulebook to reduce the number of rules and focus on the most significant issues.

• Improve academic standards for student-athletes and tie a team’s academic performance to participation in all NCAA championships.

• Revamp the NCAA penalty structure and increase the levels of violations.

• Refocus the NCAA enforcement staff to concentrate on major infractions.

• Strengthen the academic requirements for incoming freshmen and student-athletes who transfer from two-year institutions.

In a press release, Keenum said, “I respect and admire NCAA President Mark Emmert’s vision and recognition of the urgency for change from the status quo. There was a very real sense of urgency among all of the presidents during our discussions.”

This retreat was sparked in part by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive‘s four-point plan for NCAA change, which he presented three weeks ago during the league’s football media days in Hoover, Ala. Keenum was one of four SEC school presidents in attendance, and he said there was “unanimity” in the support of the above recommendations.

So what’s next? Task forces, of course, which Keenum said should expedite the implemention of said recommendations.

“We plan to make some decisions across very important areas in a matter of months and weeks, not in years,” Emmert stated in a news release. “No one in the world believes we are capable of making significant change. So we need to prove that we can.”

One issue of particular concern to Keenum when I spoke to him three weeks ago was the raising of academic standards. Slive has recommended the minimum GPA requirement for incoming freshmen be raised from 2.0 to 2.50.

“This is an important issue, but I did raise the concern that in Mississippi and even across the nation, calculating grade point averages (GPA) can vary from school district to school district,” Keenum said in the release. “While I agree with the concept of increasing GPA from 2.0 to 2.5 for incoming student athletes, I hope the NCAA Board will consider other eligibility measures such as standardized tests. I also believe this standard should be phased-in over several years to give students adequate time to prepare.”

As for focusing on major infractions, Keenum said, “Representing a relatively smaller SEC school, I think it is very important that we enforce the rules for everyone. Institutions can only compete when the playing field is level, and when all of us are playing by the same rules.”