The SEC's Media days are underway, and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive started by striking a tone in stark contrast from the previous year in which he touted the conference's many successes. Instead, Slive started by pointing out that "intercollegiate athletics has lost the benefit of the doubt", meaning that there have been so many scandals the past year that they've overshadowed the good things that come because of collegiate athletics.
In a relatively short, 13-minutes speech, Slive acknowledged that change is needed and proposed a number of changes as to how college athletes might re-emphasize the "student" in student-athlete.
Slive outlined four primary areas that formed his basis for change:
1. Redefine the benefits available to our student-athletes.
2. Strengthen academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers.
3. Modernize the recruiting rules.
4. Continue to support the NCAA's efforts to improve the enforcement process.
1. With regards to benefits, Slive talked about increasing the amount of scholarship money available to student athletes so that it covers the full cost of attendance. This has been widely discussed and taken by many to mean "paying players", but that really isn't the emphasis here. The emphasis is in making up the difference between what it really costs to attend a university versus what a full-ride scholarship pays for.
It would be a good move by NCAA schools to adopt this approach as it might curtail (but not eliminate) some of the stupidity shown by college players willing to sell memorabilia (as an example) in an effort to make up any monetary shortfall, or their willingness to get involved with individuals (agents, boosters) who might take advantage of their poverty in order to lead them astray.
It's also an excellent political move to show that the leaders in college athletics are willing to share more of the increased revenue they're getting from new TV contracts. It isn't wealth that leads to revolutions. It's the uneven distribution of wealth that topples nations. If colleges (read: BCS conferences) continue to reap enormous rewards but heap them upon coaches and administrators, sooner or later something catastrophic is bound to happen sooner or later (and we continue to have more and more scandals because athletes will fill even more slighted than before).
Slive also proposed that scholarships be given on a multi-year basis, potentially eliminating oversigning, which, if enacted, will raise the ire of several coaches in his own conference.
2. Slive proposed that academic requirements be increased (this coming from the SEC commish, of all people) so that student athletes would be required to have at least a 2.5 GPA in 16 core courses, and that satisfactory progress towards eligibility would be measured throughout the prospect's high school career (as opposed to prospects who seek to become eligible by making up courses during their senior year).
A prospect that failed to realize full eligibility would be able to attend college as a partial qualifier, but could obtain eligibility by doing satisfactory coursework for a year. Hence, the return of the "partial qualifier", something that Tom Osborne supported since it was eliminated by the creation of the Big 12 conference.
This part of Slive's proposal has a snowball's chance in hell of being accepted. Coaches routinely ask (and not just those in the SEC) for lower standards when it comes to student athletes, pleading on behalf those that have had hard lives and suffered through difficult academic situations (crappy high schools) as if the coaches themselves were acting in saintly regard for their prospects. Remember that bit about "benefit of the doubt"? It applies quite heavily here, regardless of how haughty coaches might act. Still, snowball's chance in hell.
3. In modernizing recruiting rules, Slive proposes that coaches be allowed to use texting, and social media services such as Twitter and Facebook to contact prospects. He also proposed that the recruiting process change to allow for specific days during which coaches could contact a recruit, thus eliminating the "bump" loophole that allows (unscrupulous) coaches to "accidentally" encounter a prospect while on a trip to the prospect's high school or any other event.
Enabling coaches to use modern communication methods would eliminate a large burden on compliance officers, and it would make sense. Sending an email to a recruit is okay, but using text, Facebook or Twitter isn't? It's an issue that makes the NCAA look old, outdated, and more interested in creating silly rules than in provoding a usable and enforceable recruiting process.
4. Slive would like to see a more streamlined set of rules for universities.
Who the hell wouldn't want to see that?
Keep in mind that these are merely proposals. They establish a point of discussion amongst the approximately 60 NCAA presidents who will meet in August to discuss the future of collegiate sports.
The cynical might say that Slive's proposals are a way of taking the moral high ground during a point at which LSU has been recently placed under probation, Auburn is under investigation, and Alabama (Nick Saban) have become the poster child for exploiting student athletes due to oversigning. For years, the Big Ten and other conferences have looked upon the SEC as a cheater's conference. With Ohio State reeling from the stupidity of Jim Tressel, it's an enormous opportunity for the SEC to waggle their finger in a northern direction (and towards the west coast at Oregon for a bonus waggle) for once.
Something has to change. The past year may not have been the dirtiest year ever for NCAA athletics, but Slive was correct when he said schools have lost the benefit of the doubt. The idea of "innocent until proven guilty" is gone from college athletics. If you have any doubt of that, consider how long it took you after Auburn won last year's national title to contemplate how long it would be before their wins were vacated.
Bottom line - the NCAA presidents must start acting like they give a damn about college athletics rather than seeing it as a small part of their overall university budgets. It's time for them to gain (at least some) control over their athletic departments rather than allowing their coaches (and athletic directors) to determine what rules work best for them.
If the NCAA presidents get mired in details and do nothing, expect another year of more scandals, as your favorite sports sink further in an abyss where the cheaters prosper. If that continues to happen, I would advocate that congress step in (the nuclear option!), revoke the NCAA's tax-exempt status, declare that a college football playoff be required and then laugh while the NCAA tries to sort it all out. (Okay, maybe I'm kidding about congress, but something must change.)