Posted on: October 26, 2011 2:26 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 2:58 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs Kevin Lennon has been with the association for nearly 25 years and oversees a wide-ranging department that includes student-athlete reinstatement, compliance and other issues. He sat down with CBSSports.com to discuss several of the reforms that are currently making their way through the legislative process ahead of this week's meetings.
CBSSports.com: How did you wind up at the NCAA?
"I went to Harvard as an undergrad and played some varsity and club sports there. Then I came to work at the NCAA then I went to the Southwest Conference. I was actually the first guy hired by the Southwest Conference after SMU had their death penalty. That was an interesting time to be down there and see a culture that was very different. Spent a couple of years there and have been back at the NCAA ever since. I've been the vice president for nearly 13 years."
Any interesting stories from your SWC days?
"When Fred Jacoby became commissioner of the SWC, in his first meeting the coaches had him leave the room - the commissioner - so that they could do their draft. They were buying all the same guys so they realized, let's just be more organized. 'You need these two defensive tackles, you take them, we'll take him.' They literally had a draft board. Poor Fred had come from the Mid-American Conference down to that environment.
"I'm reminded that in light of all the challenges we have now - which are significant - there was a period of time where it was just a different era."
What's been the biggest change at the NCAA during your time there?
"I think the whole development of the compliance efforts has been significant. My sense is that every time you have major cases that are processed, it does send some shock waves through the membership and then there's a response. It's a little bit reactive. Particularly among the FBS programs, we've seen more energy and more effort put into rules compliance. I think that's helped change the culture to some extent.
"At the same time, I think you've had that academic reform wave. We have more coaches that are talking about academic success and those types of things. Over the last decade, those are kind of the two things that I've seen that have changed clearly from earlier."
You work with over 1,000 schools in three division, what are the difficulties you see at each level?
"Division III has their challenges. We go through this financial audit program that says you can't offer any athletic aid or factor it in to your packages and sure enough, there's some outliers. That speaks to me just in general about the competitive nature of athletics. Even in a place where you're not offering athletic scholarships, people want to win and they sometime cut some corners.
"Division II, in terms of life in the balance, have really done a nice job of saying you can have a high quality athletics program and still be acclimated as part of the regular student body. In Division I, you see why you fly across the country for a football game. The public's interests, the pressures surrounding the competitions, the influences on the student-athletes themselves, commercial issues, create just an interesting mix from a regulatory perspective. It's just pretty darn complex. We probably spend 98% of our time on it."
The Board of Directors has several major changes they'll look at this week, is there more change this year than ever before?
"Yes. I don't think you can look at the action items that are going in front of the board and not say this is a big deal. There are some big ticket items as I would describe them. I think there was some significant issues brought up under President (Myles) Brand but I look at between now and April as very significant. There are major things with respect to access to championships that will really get people's attention. The two-year college transfer stuff will make sure that whole community is better prepared and have a significant ripple effect.
"I'm excited about the new rules group I'm working with. We have a great opportunity to get the board to just re-write that (manual). We really want to identify what do we care most about at the NCAA. It's kind of hard to tell right now. It's usually thrown together and you don't know what the priority is. To a large extent, we've always said if the membership adopts the rules, they're all of equal importance. How do you say that is more important than that? I think we finally have some courage at the presidential level to say, 'You know what? This is more important, this is a principal of what we do."
Full cost of attendance is being talked about a lot but the $2,000 figure thrown out seems a bit arbitrary.
"Out of the blocks, there is some thought that you can always go up. I think that's something the NCAA does a pretty good job of. We'll use data to figure out if there's a lot of unmet need that tells us we'll need to go to $3,000 or $4,000. I think people will be willing to do that. Keep in mind that most people will get their Pell Grant on top of that and we're going to open up other non-athletic aid that a student can receive that won't count against their total. Then there's the special assistance fund money, we give out $35 million a year. It will be fascinating to take a needy student with the two grand and the Pell Grant and the student assistance and see just how much they got at the end of the year. We're trying to meet the unmet need and I think $2,000 is a reasonable place to start. The Board could say it needs to be $3,000 to start, that will be determined by them."
One of the presidential working groups is looking at cutting scholarships in football and men's basketball, what's the reasoning behind that?
"There's a really interesting idea that's developed out of that rules group in terms of building in incentives to get yourself back to the full allotment. Like the access to championships, where you must have a certain score to be eligible, how about you have a high enough APR you can get yourself back to 13 in men's basketball. The baseline could be lower but you incentivize by academic performance teams having their full allotment of scholarships. I think it's a great idea.
"If we look at the rules, we don't have any incentives that say go above minimums and you receive benefits. I like the idea and it's one that we'll take up in earnest, that's a powerful piece. If you're a poor performing team, you may play with 11. If you're a high academic team, you'll get 13. It's some competitive advantage for a team that does well academically. I think there's a fundamental issue that our membership is walking into that says, you want to be a Division I member? There is a minimum expectation as to what you need to be providing."
Some have suggested that there be a another division for big time FBS schools.
"I think the thought is that the tent is big enough under Division I to allow for this diversity of mission. Having said that, within the regulatory structure, we need to redefine competitive equity. Up to this point, it's been whatever the last member, in terms of resources or commitment - we can't allow others to do things that would hurt them competitively. We are really getting away from that. You'll see, out of this rules group, a redefinition of what fairness means and what opportunity means.
"All that will allow conferences to have more say in how they regulate themselves versus some others. That's something that we're openly examining. Cost of attendance is a perfect example, not everyone will be able to do that. In the past we would have said you can't go to two grand because this school can't do it. Now we'll say if you can do it, do it. We're maturing to some extent and allowing enough within the tent to not
stand in their way of improving the student-athlete experience."
How big is the NCAA manual in a year or two?
"We're marking it up. My thinking right now? I think you blow the thing up. While we may have a copy somewhere in the vault, the approach should be if you had to start with a new day, what would it be. I think you'll see outcome based principles, we may end up having eight of them. You can't recruit using a third-party, you need to deal directly with the young man or woman and their family. That's a principle, you violate it and you'll face significant penalties. You may have some operating bylaws underneath that.
"I'll give you one example. One bylaw we have we've gone from 13 pages to four in the first cut. (The manual) will be significantly reduced."
Has there been a wake up call at the NCAA?
"It does seem like we had a lot of things happen this past year, there's no denying that. Malfeasance among parents, among students, there's been more of a spotlight on administrators. You could call it a perfect storm. There's been new leadership coming in and saying this doesn't feel right. To Mark (Emmert's) credit, he's been pretty aggressive in trying to figure out the systemic causes of why we're here.
"I thought the Presidential Retreat, and I've been here 25 years, was one of the most thoughtful, honest conversations about why we got where we are and what we can do about it."
Posted on: May 24, 2011 2:19 pm
By Eye on College Football Bloggers
Each week, the Eye on CFB team convenes Voltron- style to answer a pressing question regarding the wild, wide world of college football. This week's topic:
Both Jim Delany and Mike Slive have come out in favor of "full cost of attendance" athletic scholarships that will include stipends for transportation, clothing, etc., in addition to covering tuition. But it's believed that not all conferences will be able to afford such stipends. Is this a plan college football fans should support?
Tom Fornelli: This is an interesting debate. Because my first inclination is that any extra money that the players can get, they should get. It's not that I think it'll keep players from breaking NCAA rules and taking money elsewhere or anything, it's just that I've always felt that the players should be getting a bigger piece of that billion dollar pie they bake to begin with.
That being said, I do worry about what this can lead to. It will affect recruiting. Let's say one conference is offering more than another. If I'm an 18-year old kid without a job, with an equal opportunity of playing at two different schools, but one is offering me $5,000 a year while the other $3,000? That $2,000 is going to make a big difference in my life. Plus, what if all the BCS conferences agree to a flat rate throughout to even that up? Well, that will just about kill the Mountain West's, WAC's and all the other non-BCS conferences' recruiting. The BCS already has an advantage over them, and now if they're offering even more, that gap only widens.
Adam Jacobi: You know what, though, Tom? I don't think the current recruiting rules did the little guys much good to begin with.
By that I mean, pretty much the only thing a school is allowed to use to entice a particular recruit is the relationship with the coach (playing time, off-field support) and the football program itself (game day, training facilities). Education also plays a role, but a rather weak one--the amount of young men who either A) enroll in the SEC or B) transfer from a quality school to some rinky-dink lower-division school whose diplomas mean about as much as a McDonald's placemat would indicate that the quality of education is not nearly as important as playing time or on-field prestige.
And sure, limiting recruiting pitches to football and education sounds good, but it basically means that a have-not type of school--your typical Sun Belt or MAC program, say--can't do a damn thing to entice an upper-level recruit to come there instead of to a BCS school.
Jerry Hinnen: Right. There's no question that the proposal would end any kind of recruiting "battles" between BCS and non-BCS teams (assuming the latter, as widely believed, couldn't come up with the scratch to put it into practice). Playing time and shots at championships only matter so much compared to (over four years) $8,000-$12,000.But how many of those battles are going on in the first place? A handful in the West between Boise State and San Diego State and various Pac-12 schools ... maybe a few between bottom-rung BCS schools looking for sleepers in Texas and Florida and local C-USA teams like UCF, Houston and SMU ... perhaps a local metro recruit could be persuaded to stay in the MAC at Temple or, now, UMass, rather than going to ride the bench at a Big East cellar dweller.
AJ: Remember how funny it was that Cyrus Kouandjio kept leaving New Mexico in his Top 5? It's probably irritating to non-power schools that it was so funny.
At the same time, though, the last thing we need is a redux of the cash-crazy SWC days. That was unseemly and it ended badly. We don't need to encourage that type of behavior. And that's why I think what Tom's suggesting, that one school might be able to offer a flat sum of money more than the other, won't come to pass. There's going to be some strict regulation on what constitutes the full cost of attendance, and that seems fair. What I'd be interested in is how this extra money is disbursed. Surely they don't plan to award the money in a flat sum at the beginning of each semester, right? Because if you put $2,000 in a college kid's bank account and tell him it's got to last for four months, how long do you think that money's really going to last? And how much of that money is going to be spent conspicuously (i.e. cars, bling, alcohol), potentially embarrassing a school that fought hard for the athletes to get that extra money? JH: That could be a problem. But the fallout I'm worried about from this plan isn't what happens if it passes; it's what happens if the NCAA's mid-major rank-and-file (which may not have a dog in the FBS fight but will no doubt do whatever they can to protect their D-I men's hoops interests) find a way to keep it from passing. It's possible that that's the point at which the BCS schools take their ball and go home to their own, NCAA-free college football Premier League ... and as someone who enjoys seeing Boise State try to break through the glass ceiling and the C-USA champ take on the SEC in the Liberty Bowl and even, say, Temple take on Penn State in mid-September, I think college football would be dramatically poorer for it.
Chip Patterson: Further separation from the BCS and Non-BCS schools is the scariest aspect to me in this whole situation. The threat/idea of a BCS breakaway from the NCAA (as Jerry mentioned) seems to be a doomsday scenario that everyone knows exists, but no one wants to talk about. It would bring up new definitions and standards for college athletes, as well as amateurism in general. Full cost scholarships are going to be a nightmare to try and define and establish across college football, and I fear the results of the conversation would only raise more problems than it would solve.Around many college campuses, the football team is on a bigger celebrity status than city officials. You give 18-22 year olds a new stream of cash to go along with their larger-than-life status, there are going to be some consequences. You could argue that there would be no more of a threat of off-field misconduct than already exists, but I find it difficult to imagine it won't play a factor in misconduct reports in the future.
Bryan Fischer: The one thing to keep in mind about these full-cost scholarship proposals is that they're going to be adjusted based on federal calculations to cover the gap between what the college scholarship covers now and what it actually costs to attend a school.