A grizzled reporting comrade, tired of the NCAA process, once said: "Just tell me when they actually do something."
He, like most of us, had grown weary of the NCAA's tough talk, but lack of action. Every new problem was met with some sort of meeting, retreat or summit. Change was slower than Yadier Molina to first base.
That sort of changed on Wednesday. Sort of, because presidents invited to the NCAA's celebrated retreat emerged Wednesday with talk of sweeping change. It was specific, it was bold, it challenged.
It might just happen.
"Some of these things," Penn State president Graham Spanier said, "our coaches and boosters may not like."
"It's time," Cal-Riverside chancellor Tim White said, "for some tough love."
Tough love? When did college athletics start to resemble a bunch of 14-year olds being sent to Rikers Island to see the inside of a jail?
It's the new NCAA, folks. They're wearing the same old suits, but they're also carrying shivs. Figuratively. There are further signs that these guys mean business. If the CEOs accomplish half of what they talked about Wednesday in an afternoon presser, then amateur athletics, not just college athletics, will have changed significantly.
The presidents potentially did more in the last two days than their predecessors did in the last 60 years.
They promised to streamline the NCAA Manual, a monumental undertaking. Their intent: To concentrate more on catching the intentional rule breakers, not necessarily the coaches who make too many phone calls.
"We're going to de-emphasize the rules nobody cares about," Spanier said.
I'm pretty sure the words "sentencing guidelines" have never been mentioned in the enforcement process. That was, before Wednesday. That's why penalties were so maddeningly inconsistent. Now there may be some sense to them.
There was serious talk about a hard 930 Academic Progress Rate. If not, schools don't get into the NCAA tournament. (Note: UConn, already hit with scholarship reductions because of a low APR, would not have been eligible for the 2010 tournament based on the 930 baseline.)
It looks like players are finally going to be paid. It will be a modest amount and the NCAA will bend over backwards to make it look like it's not pay for play, but let's be honest. It is. It's also fair.
So is the idea of multiple-year scholarships. No longer will schollies be renewable year-to-year at the whim of the coach. Kids deserve more security than that. College shouldn't be an annual tryout for a scholarship, it should be about education.
It would be boastful to suggest our July series on reform planted some small seeds in this debate, ah, but what the hell. Let's just say it did. It's a new day in the NCAA and its president Mark Emmert looks like Patrick Swayze in "Road House". Emmert/Patrick has entered the bar, the band has stopped playing, now he needs to clean house.
There is a very big caveat that comes with it. All, or most, of this tough talk has to be backed up. Emmert and The Presidents (hey, not a bad band name) are talking months instead of years in terms of implementing change.
They're on record now. Their reps are at stake. If this doesn't work, it's time to blow up the model and start over. That's what makes me think these sweeping changes are coming. The NCAA live streamed the retreat presser. It interviewed participants. We know who these people are. Where they work. They're frauds if they don't follow through.
Wonder what Walter Byers is thinking about this. The NCAA's first executive director (for parts of four decades) ruled the association with an iron fist. He controlled television appearances, he oversaw the enforcement department like a small-town sheriff dealing out penalties with impunity. It was under him that the perception began: The NCAA protected the rich and punished the poor.
In the last two days Mark Emmert has proved there is a new sheriff in town. One who looks like he's ready to clean house. Just don't ask Emmert/Swayze if he shaves his chest.