|NCAA president Mark Emmert is trying to get things right after a scandal-ridden year. (AP)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- After a year of scandals and calls for a new direction from every corner of the country, the NCAA Board of Directors wrapped up the organization's annual convention Saturday by deciding on numerous reforms that may shape intercollegiate athletics for decades to come.
Covering a range of issues from academic requirements to 7-on-7 competition to foreign travel, most of the proposals stem from an August retreat held by NCAA president Mark Emmert and have turned into adopted measures within just five months.
"We had a very full agenda that included a lot of debate and discussion on issues of extraordinary importance to our student-athletes and to the association overall," Emmert said Saturday as meetings wrapped up.
"It was described by some on our committee," Well Being Working Group chairman Sidney McPhee said, "as one of the best things to happen in terms of the message that we're giving out as institutions and the NCAA in regards to student well-being. We're very hopeful."
The most significant actions taken by the 18-member board -- made up of college presidents from across the Division I level -- were to unanimously support multiyear scholarships and the idea for a $2,000-per-athlete allowance designed to cover cost of living expenses. The Board also voted down proposals that would have eliminated scholarships in both football and women's basketball.
"We wanted to make sure that we were in compliance with Title IX and our equivalency scholarships," Emmert explained. "We didn't want to have any unintended consequences from the implementation."
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The cost of living proposal now will see the development of details about its application before going back before the presidents in April. The multiyear scholarship proposal will take effect immediately -- which means it will affect class of 2012 signees as soon as February, unless it is overridden by the membership, which will take part in an online vote in the next few weeks. It requires a five-eighths majority of more than 300 Division I schools to rescind the rule -- far more than the 82 that opposed it.
On Friday, in the Division I membership's first opportunity to comment on proposals before the board, many openly questioned the logic behind some of the proposals, such as the $2,000 supplement and a move to cut scholarships.
"What you see with these proposals is an effort to restrain spending at the expense of student-athletes," Harvey Perlman, chancellor of Nebraska-Lincoln, said. "The working group says if you reduce scholarships and other expenses, you can reallocate it to other things for student-athletes. But the problem is, I don't know of an athletic department that won't spend every penny it has.
"I just think this is bad publicity, and I think it's bad policy."
"This work is transformational," California athletic director Sandy Barbour said. "I stand in support of a delay in implementation and an extended effective date. Those of us in support are doing it because it's the right thing to do for our student-athletes. Let's get it right. A delay may draw criticism, but that criticism will be even deeper and longer-lasting if we do not get it right."
The strong words at the session were not unexpected by Ed Ray, chair of the Executive Committee and one of the leaders guiding the NCAA through the reform process.
"We've talked about wanting to move in an expedited way and we all understand that when you try to create systematic change quickly, you can make mistakes," he said. "I think the question constantly is -- Who bares the risk of getting it wrong?
"You have to make sure you step back and be comfortable with what's being proposed before you go forward with it."
Ray said he found the decisions ultimately coming out of the meetings consistent with that thinking.
Emmert, who's contract was extended by two years on Friday, has been the public face of the NCAA through one of its darkest years and has been leading charge of reform with less regard to the impact of some of the legislation on schools' bottom lines and more focus on student-athletes' well-being.
"Do we have the right guy at the right time doing the right job?" Ray said of Emmert. "Absolutely."
The board also voted down a ban on foreign travel, asked for more discussion regarding coaching staff limitations in multiple sports and adopted a one-year moratorium on new, non-emergency legislation. Fifty-two of 80 proposals suggested by the working groups were tabled for further discussion in April by the NCAA Legislative Council, a move that suggests that even high level leaders at the association are coming around to pumping the brakes on some parts of their agendas despite the general movement continuing to push ahead.
"It's clear [after] this first pass at reforms, people were surprised at the speed with which things were getting done," Emmert said. "We've got lots of really good information and now we'll go back at it and it will be well received."