NCAA presidents retreat to discuss policy issues

By MICHAEL MAROT | The Associated Press

Mark Emmert is tired of tweaking the NCAA rulebook.

He wants an overhaul.

More than 60 university presidents and administrators are scheduled to meet with Emmert on Tuesday and Wednesday in Indianapolis, a debate that could include everything from deregulation to scholarship funding to keeping integrity in college sports.

“He thinks it’s time to look at what we’re doing at a mega-level, and if where we are is where we want to be and should be,” said former NCAA infractions committee chairwoman Josephine Potuto, the faculty rep at Nebraska since 1997. “He wants to know where Division I is and where it’s headed.”

Critics contend it’s about time because under the current format, the NCAA cannot keep up with all the scandals tainting college sports.

Connecticut was penalized in February for recruiting violations in its men’s basketball program, but the punishment did not derail the Huskies run to a third national title.

In December, Auburn’s football program came under scrutiny after Cam Newton’s father was found to be involved in a pay-for-play recruiting scheme. The NCAA did not punish Newton, ruling he was unaware of his father’s efforts. Newton went on to win the Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to the national title.

That’s just the start.

In June, Southern California was stripped of its 2004 national championship by the Bowl Championship Series for NCAA infractions that also forced Reggie Bush to give back his Heisman Trophy.

Tennessee officials are still awaiting an NCAA decision on a case accusing former football coach Lane Kiffin and men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl of recruiting violations. The school is also accused of failing to create an atmosphere of compliance.

Ohio State officials are scheduled to appear in front of the infractions committee Friday. The case involves football players who allegedly received cash and tattoos for autographs, championship rings and equipment. Former coach Jim Tressel also is accused of failing to notify school officials after learning of the possible infractions. Tressel resigned in May, but the players were allowed to play in last season’s bowl game and will be suspended this fall. Ohio State President Gordon Gee is also expected to attend the presidential retreat.

Two weeks ago, North Carolina fired football coach Butch Davis amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of improper benefits provided to players and academic misconduct, following several suspensions of players who had contact with agents.

Even those outside the purview of the NCAA have gotten caught up in scandal.

The BCS fined the Fiesta Bowl $1 million and considered dropping the game from its series after an internal investigation uncovered apparently illegal campaign contributions by staff and lavish spending by former bowl CEO and president John Junker on parties and a night at a strip club.

So when Emmert sent out invitations to this week’s meeting, he made it clear that this wasn’t going to be just a typical round table discussion.

“A few new tweaks of the rules won’t get the job done,” he said in a statement.

Apparently, he’s not alone.

Last week, the NCAA’s leadership council agreed to come up with a men’s basketball proposal that would deregulate electronic communications, including text messages. It would also allow unlimited communication beginning Aug. 1 with recruits entering their junior years. A formal proposal could be finalized by October.

Potuto thinks this debate is long overdue.

“Trying to regulate is really clogging up the process,” she said. “Believe me, if you list something and it’s a no-no, it’s incumbent on the association to go after people who break those rules, whether they’re agents paying players or you’re making too many phone calls. The question is whether we should have some of these rules in place. i think it’s worth a full discussion as to what it is we’re trying to accomplish, how well we’re accomplishing it and what the trade-off is as far as other things we might or should be doing.”

Potuto also favors other new concepts such as providing scholarship athletes with the full cost of attendance, money above and beyond just what’s paid to the university.

Officials from the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC have had similar discussions at their conference meetings, and it’s almost certain to be a key part of this week’s discussion.

“We’re for it,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said in June. “It’s a positive thing and I think doing something for student-athletes is a positive thing. The reality of being able to do it, it’s hard.”

No formal proposals are expected to go into the NCAA’s legislative process after the two-day presidential retreat.

Instead, the discussion over key issues such as policing unsavory agents, stronger enforcement tools and punishments for rules violators, academic reform, player safety and financial sustainability will return to campuses.

Emmert and others believe the answers could change college athletics for years to come.

“The intent isn’t to simply have the discussion and then everybody goes home and goes back to doing things the way they have done them,” Potuto said. “There is a real interest in airing the issues and coming to some agreement, if not on a particular way to handle it but alternative ways that then could be voted on. I think the intent would be to get that done in a short timeframe, one or two years rather than five or 10 years.”