GRAPEVINE, Texas -- There was some head-scratching across college sports in June when the NCAA hit North Carolina with a lack of institutional control allegation for its academic fraud scandal. No one thought UNC shouldn't be charged. The confusion centered on the interpretation over how the NCAA finally made allegations in the never-ending scandal of fake classes. The NCAA charged North Carolina with “impermissible benefits,” a term more commonly used for gaining something of monetary value, not free academic grades.

But the way the enforcement system is set up, the impermissible benefits charge may have been the best way for the NCAA to sink any teeth into the pending UNC case. That’s going to soon change. After four years of talk, there’s finally an NCAA proposal that would be the first legislative change in academic integrity since 1983.

The legislation would move the NCAA away from "academic extra benefits" -- members thought the language was ripe for overreach by the enforcement staff -- to "impermissible academic assistance." The shift would both broaden and narrow the scope of whether the NCAA can allege academic misconduct.

A player’s eligibility wouldn’t have to be affected for the NCAA to charge impermissible academic assistance involving an institutional staff member. Kathy Sulentic, chair of the NCAA enforcement staff’s academic integrity group, explained to Division I faculty athletic representatives this week that there would be a “very high bar” to bring a violation under impermissible academic assistance. On the one hand, universities still want control to determine if academic fraud occurred on their campus. On the other hand, universities want the NCAA to make a charge when there’s obvious collusion on campus “but the institution, for whatever reason, came out with an absurd result,” Sulentic said.

Impermissible academic assistance would have to be “substantial.” So, a faculty athletic rep asked, what does "substantial" mean? “That’s sort of the million-dollar question,” Sulentic replied. “We’re not looking for the close call. We’re not looking for a paragraph added. We’re not looking for heavy editing. We’re looking for an entire paper has been done for someone. We’re looking where someone got the answer key to an entire exam. We’re looking at things that make a big difference for that class.”

Nebraska faculty athletic representative Jo Potuto, a former NCAA infractions committee chairwoman, said the latest academic misconduct proposal is a substantial improvement from past drafts. But she raised the following scenario: What if a coach seeks a professor’s help to improve a player’s grade and the professor says no? Potuto essentially described Rutgers’ recent findings regarding football coach Kyle Flood, who was suspended three games by the university for trying to persuade a professor to change a player’s grade to keep him eligible. Under the NCAA proposal, the attempt by the coach to commit academic misconduct wouldn’t be an NCAA violation; it’s only a violation if the intent produced the grade change.

Potuto disagrees with this interpretation. She said depending on how coaches’ contracts are written, a university may want to fire a coach for cause but needs recognition of an NCAA violation to do so.

Privately, faculty athletic representatives across the country are stunned Rutgers has not fired Flood for cause. Rutgers’ policy preventing coaches from having contact with a professor over grades is common at almost every university. It’s widely known that coaches can’t directly reach out to professors or admissions officers.

“As a faculty member, it truly bothers me,” Rutgers faculty athletic rep Tom Stephens said about the Flood situation. “But I’m not sure there’s any way to prevent it. Education, education, education, education. But if people don’t listen, what can you tell people that don’t listen? You have to put that in the person’s contract and it should be put in all the people’s contracts. That’s really what has to be done. Has it been done (in Flood’s contract)? I don’t know if it’s in the contract.”

Potuto raised another concern with the NCAA proposal: Universities can decide whether to withhold an athlete from playing while they determine if academic fraud occurred. “Every campus is different,” Sulentic said. “Some campuses can process it in a week; some take four months.”

Potuto said universities would have an incentive to act quickly if the NCAA said eligibility withholding occurs when there’s a reason to go to a university committee for academic fraud. “If not, I can predict some schools will take a much longer time to do it than other schools,” she said.

The proposed legislation will be voted on in April 2016 and could be in effect next August. Student to student academic misconduct would be an institutional matter, not an NCAA case, unless a player’s eligibility is at stake. The proposal would also require every school to have an academic misconduct policy for all students. “I know that’s probably incredulous to many of you here,” Sulentic told faculty athletic reps, “but unfortunately, we have seen some cases where the institution doesn’t know how to act.”

Sulentic said the NCAA views impermissible academic assistance broadly, and institutional staff members could mean people such as weight room employees, administrative assistants and trainers. “Coaches will stand up and make a declaration, ‘We need to do everything we can to get this young man or young woman eligible,’” Sulentic said. “In scenarios like this, it’s directed to his or her staff and the staff takes that as a direct order to act in this area and often times they act impermissibly.”

NCAA database: More concussions than expected

A surprising development occurred in Year 1 of the NCAA/Department of Defense concussion database to track the history of concussions. NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said 310 concussions have been captured among the select number of participating universities after 13,000 baseline evaluations. Hainline was expecting around 150 concussions. "In 2009, when concussion literature went out and concussion incidents spiked, everyone said that's because we have more awareness of concussions so that makes sense," Hainline said. "But for the schools under which we have a microscope, we're almost at a double rate right now. I'm not sure what that means yet, but it means something."

The first round of the database's findings will be presented in February at a college football safety summit and released publicly in March. Hainline expects the NCAA's concussion guidelines will eventually change based on these findings and other studies.

"Personally, I don't think the year-round football practice contact guidelines make sense," Hainline said. "So we limit it to two live contact practices a week. How can we say a quarterback should have the same amount of contact, or lack thereof, as an offensive lineman? It just doesn't make sense. So I'm hoping in a couple years it's all driven by sensor data."

Hainline said many athletic directors are not as involved on safety issues as they should be since they sign off on concussion protocol compliance at their school. If the NCAA is successful making well-rehearsed concussion plans the industry standard over the next two years, "there's going to be a radical cultural shift without so much ineptitude as we see now," Hainline said.

NCAA will increase drug testing

The NCAA is increasing drug testing this year to the point that "there are going to be a number of Division I schools that are surprised when we're back there for the third time," NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said. "And it might even be the third time within a couple weeks. There's going to be an entirely different deterrent strategy."

Speaking to NCAA faculty athletic reps, Hainline said he's working behind the scenes to eliminate drug testing to be administered by athletic directors and conferences. "It should all be overseen by an independent administrator," he said. "That's the only way to give it teeth."

Hainline said he supports schools continuing to test for marijuana, alcohol and prescription overuse, but disagrees the NCAA should test for marijuana. "You have to be a moron to test positive for pot at a championship -- seriously," Hainline said. "Everyone knows just stop smoking a month beforehand. I mean, I knew that when I was a student-athlete. I read about it."

Tom McMillen takes over AD association

The Division IA Athletic Directors' Association made an intriguing hire this week by selecting former Congressman and Maryland basketball player Tom McMillen to be its executive director. The association is reforming itself as athletic directors carry more clout in NCAA governance decisions. The Division IA Athletic Directors' Association will move its offices from Dallas to Washington D.C., the area where McMillen lives.

McMillen has previously championed the idea of a presidential commission on college sports so Congress can explore reform. His ideas have included a luxury tax associated with rising coaches' salaries and sharing more revenue evenly because he believes the current model will cause Olympic sports, women's sports and education to suffer. He also hasn't been opposed to athletes making money off their names, images and likenesses -- he calls them "personal equities" -- but does not want them to be employees.

McMillen said those are his personal views. He doesn't think Division I ADs collectively want a commission and he now believes Congress may be too dysfunctional for the idea to work. McMillen plans to spend two months developing a plan for the association's future. "A lot depends on where college athletics is," he said. "It's at a tipping point. I think the ADs want to build bridges into Congress, bridges into the NCAA, bridges into conferences. They want to make sure their voice is heard, including in the public. They want to be more of a factor in all of this."

Read 'em

* Edward Ashcoff and Adam Rittenberg of examined the fundamental disconnect black college football players feel across the country: They're heroes on Saturdays and profiled for the rest of the week.

* Steve Berkowitz of USA Today reported on Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby saying there will be a day when college athletes decide to strike.

* Georgia sent photos of Jonathan Taylor's accuser's injuries and copies of police incident reports to Alabama nearly three weeks before Taylor enrolled with the Crimson Tide, according to Nicole Noren of ESPN's Outside the Lines.

* In case you missed it, I wrote that NCAA president Mark Emmert said the association is prepared to take the Ed O'Bannon and Jeffrey Kessler cases to the Supreme Court, and how faculty athletic representatives feel disenfranchised by the NCAA.

Quote of the week

“It’s not even close to what happened south of here.” -- TCU coach Gary Patterson defending his program after two players were arrested for felony robbery -- the latest incident among Horned Frogs players in recent years. Patterson was taking a shot at Baylor’s off-field issues. Last I checked, arrests aren’t a competition.

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UNC's academic case has forced the NCAA to take a look at its misconduct rules. (USATSI)
UNC's academic case has forced the NCAA to take a look at its misconduct rules. (USATSI)