The scandal-plagued NCAA is moving swiftly in hopes of cleaning up its image.
On Thursday, the Division I Board of Directors approved a package of sweeping reforms that gives conferences the option of adding more money to scholarships, schools the opportunity to award scholarships for multiple years, imposes tougher academic standards on recruits and changes the summer basketball recruiting model.
It was one of the most aggressive and fullest agendas the board has ever faced, NCAA President Mark Emmert said. They moved with dispatch on it, and I think theyre taking positive steps for schools and student-athletes.
For decades, outsiders have debated whether scholarships should include more than just the cost of tuition, room and board, books and fees, wondering if its athletes were more susceptible to outside offers of benefits because they didnt have extra cash. Now they can.
The board approved a measure allowing conferences to provide up to $2,000 in spending money, or what the NCAA calls the full cost-of-attendance. Emmert insists it is not pay-for-play, merely the reintroduction of a stipend that existed for college athletes until 1972. He also compared it to the stipends received by other students who receive nonathletic scholarships.
Some thought the total amount should have been higher. At the Big Tens basketball media day in Chicago, commissioner Jim Delany said studies have shown the average athlete pays roughly $3,000 to $4,000 each year out of his or her own pocket in college costs.
But many believe the measure is long overdue.
I think it needs to happen or else I think whats left of the system itself is going to implode, said Ohio University professor David Ridpath, past president of The Drake Group, an NCAA watchdog. Weve always lost the moral high ground by saying the educational model is what makes this thing go. I think were delivering a model that can exploit kids while theyre here.
Extra money wont solve all of the NCAAs problems.
Schools must shoulder the cost of any additional funding, and it will have to be doled out equally to mens and womens athletes because of Title IX rules. While schools in the six BCS-affiliated conferences are expected to swiftly approve additional funding, it may prove too costly for non-BCS schools. There are fears it will increase the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
The board also approved a measure that will give individual schools the authority to award athletic scholarships on a multiple-year basis.
Under the current model, scholarships are annually renewed and can be revoked for any reason. If adopted, schools could guarantee scholarships for the players entire career and would be unable to revoke it based solely on athletic performance. Scholarships still could be pulled for reasons such as poor grades, academic misconduct or other forms of improper behavior.
Ridpath said hes been involved personally with 50 or 60 appeals cases after a coach pulled a players scholarship.
The reason usually is they find a prettier girl to bring to the dance, he said. If youre Frank Beamer or Nick Saban, they make a lot of money, and they should be able to coach that kid up.
University presidents are moving quickly to repair the damage caused by a year full of scandals.
Schools from Miami to Boise State, including the reigning champions in football (Auburn) and mens basketball (Connecticut), all have come under NCAA scrutiny. The Justice Department started asking questions about scholarships, Congress has held hearings about a variety of NCAA-related issues, and conference realignment has continued to spin wildly.
So the NCAAs board went back to basics and placed a renewed emphasis on academics.
In August, the board approved raising the four-year Academic Progress Rate cutline from 900 to 930 and linking that cutline to eligibility for postseason play. On Thursday, it passed a four-year plan to phase in some bite.
During the first two years, 2012-13 and 2013-14, teams scoring below 900 on the four-year average would be ineligible for postseason play unless they averaged 930 on the two most recent years of data. In 2014-15, teams that do not hit the 930 mark would be ineligible unless they averaged 940 in the two most recent years. After that, everyone must hit 930, no exceptions.
Schools that do not make the grade also could face additional penalties such as reductions in practice time and game limits, coach suspensions, scholarship reductions and restricted NCAA membership. The board also approved a measure to include the provision in its bowl licensing agreements, which means it will apply to football teams, too.
Emmert said if the new rule had been used last year, seven mens basketball teams and eight football teams would have been ineligible for the postseason. And theres almost no way out for teams that dont make the grade.
You can appeal, but we are going to be very, very strict about appeals, said Walt Harrison, chairman of the committee on academic performance. So we really dont expect waivers to be a major factor.
As part of the plan, the board agreed to raise eligibility standards for incoming freshmen and junior college transfers. Previously, high school seniors needed a 2.0 GPA in 16 core courses. Now theyll need a 2.3 GPA and will have to complete 10 of those classes before their senior year. Junior college transfers will need a 2.5 GPA and only can count two physical education credits toward their eligibility.
The other big issue was summer basketball recruiting.
The board has agreed to drop the text messaging ban and allow unlimited contacts with prep players after June 15 of their sophomore year. But instead of having 20 player evaluation days in July, coaches will have four in April, previously a dead period, and 12 more in July. And theyll have more on-campus contact with recruits and current players during the summer. Some of those details will be worked out in January.
Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said the changes could help limit the influence of agents or unscrupulous coaches, which has become yet another problem for the NCAA.
In the summer, there are third-parties looking to access our student-athletes as well, work them out, Haney said. So by allowing access in the summer, we allow coaches to empower our players to become better players.
The NCAA still has plenty of issues to tackle.
In January, the board is expected to get recommendations on how to shrink the massive rulebook. On Thursday, it backed a plan to focus on integrity issues rather than specifics. A vote isnt expected until April.
And its still trying to scrap the current two-tiered penalty structure in favor of four categories with specific penalty guidelines. A vote on that will not likely come until next October.