Senior Writer

NCAA needs to call special convention to clean up its mess


In a way, Greg Byrne is asking for trouble. Big trouble.

There are few athletic directors, if any, who are so disgusted at the current climate in college athletics that they want their programs turned in. We know this because there are very few ADs who have been so proactive in these troubled times.

"My purpose here is not to judge or be critical of one of our peer institutions," Byrne wrote earlier this month in an email update to fans on

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"However ..."

However ... citing the muck Ohio State finds itself stuck in, Byrne added that, "We are one bad decision by a coach, employee, student-athlete ... or fan" from facing NCAA troubles. He then listed his phone number and email and those of his compliance department asking fans to contact them if they know of a player getting an extra benefit.

Unique? Sure. Can't seem to recall Mike Garrett or Gene Smith issuing a similar message. Dangerous? Byrne knows being proactive is a hell of a lot better than being, say, Ohio State at the moment.

"I believe the great majority of people within college athletics ... want to see us follow the rules that are in place," he said. "If we don't like a rule, we have the opportunity through legislation to try to shape our future and what it does look like."

Byrne gets it, maybe one of the few major-college administrators with this mentality: To stay clean, you have to want to be clean. What he doesn't get is that his three-paragraph statement has become, what Byrne termed, "revolutionary."

National publications picked it up. Columnists began writing about it. It became fodder for radio and TV.

The message made so much sense that it took Byrne all of five minutes to compose. Twelve days later, scour the Internet, and it's hard to find an AD who has copied him. Maybe it's too hazardous to invite scrutiny. Maybe too many ADs weigh that job security against a possible NCAA investigation.

Schools only know what they want to know. That makes Byrne a reformer. It made Garrett at Southern California and (perhaps) Smith at Ohio State blind.

NCAA president Mark Emmert has spoken of making the risk of cheating outweigh the reward. We've yet to see it on a grand scale. To the point that even the much-disgraced Trojans still have that 2004 national championship in the minds of their fans and in the agate of the Associated Press poll.

Everyone agrees that something must be done, but what? This is arguably the dirtiest era in NCAA history.

It's time for an NCAA special convention.

If that sounds pretentious and bureaucratic, it is. It's also about as sexy as your grandmother's house coat. But in these troubled times where else do you go but old and worn?

Fresh ideas like honor and dignity sure haven't worked.

Auburn is being investigated on two fronts. North Carolina just got its official letter of inquiry from the NCAA. Tennessee and Boise State just appeared before the infractions committee. Colt McCoy's wife might have flapped her gums on a talk show enough to suggest Texas players got extra benefits.

By resigning, Jim Tressel, the current spokesmodel for the reward-outweighs-risk coach, might have done the right thing. Now he just needs to find his soul buried in the detritus.

Earlier this month, Steve Spurrier had otherwise rational people convinced that the old "Hundred Dollar Handshake" could evolve from violation to NCAA legislation.

That idea sprang from Jim Delany's suggestion that every athlete should be paid -- thousands.

Make it stop, please. We need that special convention because it has been 24 years since the last one. It was 1987 and the NCAA's ideals were under attack. That was the year the Presidents' Commission was desperate for balance between academics and athletics. That was the year the Southwest Conference was disintegrating from the inside. That year SMU got the death penalty.

Beginning to notice any similarities between past and present?

The basic college athletics conflict still exists: Not-for-profit organizations (schools, NCAA) churning a profit out of an amateur endeavor.

"The soft underbelly of this business has always been the kids get room, board, tuition, books and fees and an education ...," said Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby, "and the coach is making $4 million a year. Therein lies the problem."

Pay players? They're already paid -- Pell Grants, money from the needy student-athlete fund. You can't pay 85 football players on scholarship to pay 85 women on the other side. Every school in FBS might be able to pay that stipend, but they can't all afford it. Example: A school like San Jose State might pay its players at the expense of building a new weight room or handing out raises.

Go ahead, pay the players. See if it keeps A.J. Green from selling his jersey or Terrelle Pryor from reportedly making five figures off of his gear. The idea isn't bad. The implementation is impossible because of a system that is harder to figure out than the plot of Inception.

A special convention isn't a cure-all either; it just gets all the circus acts under the same tent. It's an admission that the system is broken. It shows there are more Greg Byrnes out there. Currently, the NCAA meets once a year at its convention in January. Much drama was drained from the procedures a few years ago when conferences began voting on proposals instead of individual schools.

Is it too much to suggest there be no more committees established, no more mere promises of get-tough penalties? Just do it. Make the penalties equal the crimes. Hammer Ohio State, just like USC. Send a message. Threaten the death penalty, although infractions committees over the years seem to have forgotten it.

Make sure Tressel and Bruce Pearl do not work again at an NCAA school for at least five years. That might effectively end their college careers. Anyone feeling any pity?

Things can get done in a hurry. A few years ago former NCAA president Myles Brand pushed through legislation following a series of recruiting scandals. Back in 1987 presidents were at least trying to take control of college sports. Emmert took a step in the right direction Monday announcing a summit of 50 Division CEOs (presidents and chancellors) in August. The two-day meeting will address academics, amateurism principles and fiscal sustainability.

Emmert added that the retreat will not produce immediate solutions.

"Detail," he said, "takes time."

Here we go again? It seems like these days we're content to watch that circus go by -- while the horses poop up and down Main Street. Pat Kilkenny has an idea. Oregon's former AD and noted businessman would get all the powerbrokers in one room.

Kilkenny suggested a summit featuring Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Emmert, plus "a couple of guys from the private sector": Phil Knight, maybe Warren Buffett. That qualifies as a heck of a special convention.

"They've got a chance to get some things done," Kilkenny said, "You say, 'You're not leaving until you figure it out.' I don't think those people would compromise what this is all about. Each one wields incredible power right now. They need to be drug to the party right now."

Right now being the key message. Byrne was Mississippi State's AD when the Cam Newton mess started. In the name of Cecil Newton, why hasn't there been emergency legislation to close the loophole that allowed Cam's dad to raffle him off to the highest bidder?

Emmert has been on the job since November. Those seven months are beginning to seem like dog years as scandals continue to break. And, unfortunately, Greg Byrne still seems like a revolutionary.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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