The NCAA will meet in New Orleans in two months to consider a proposal by the newly formed NCAA President's Commission that would greatly increase penalties for schools caught cheating. Already there is talk about watering down what the presidents have suggested.
"I think most of the package will pass," Notre Dame's athletic director, Gene Corrigan, said. "But shutting down a football program for two years is really shutting it down for a decade or shutting it down forever. It isn't the same as basketball . . . I think you'll see some modifications made."
Earlier this week, the NCAA Council, following the recommendation of the 44-member President's Commission, proposed new rules regarding recruiting violations that would specifically identify "major" violations, as opposed to "secondary" violations. If a program were caught in major violations twice in five years, it would face a two-year suspension.
The NCAA always has been empowered to shut down programs. It has done so twice, both times in basketball, suspending Kentucky's program in 1952 and, 20 years later, doing the same to Southwestern Louisiana. The new proposal would give the enforcement committee broader powers to penalize cheaters and would make the suspension of a program far more likely.
Notre Dame never has been on probation in football or basketball. Southern California has been on probation twice recently in football. Its athletic director, Mike McGee, who took over in the wake of the most recent probation, also thinks suspending programs is going too far.
"I think when you do that, a lot of innocent people are affected," he said. "I'm very much in favor of getting the coaches who cheat fired and out of coaching. I'm in favor of firing anyone involved in cheating, and I'm in favor of taking away eligibility from athletes involved in taking things illegally. But to suspend a football program is to kill it. I think that goes too far."
Indiana University's basketball coach, Bob Knight, suggested last fall that, if the NCAA weren't willing to suspend programs, it might at least consider making a violator play all games on the road during its probation. "Off the top of my head," McGee said, "I wouldn't have any problem with that."
While many athletic directors are discussing the ramifications of the rules, if passed, some coaches are wondering if the proposals would have much practical effect.
"The sentiment is right," Boston College's basketball coach, Gary Williams, said. "Cheaters should be punished as severely as possible. But enforcement in basketball still has to come from coaches. The NCAA enforcement staff isn't nearly big enough to know what's going on.
"That means coaches have to turn in other coaches. My experience has been that, in most cases, they won't do that. It's hard. I've never had hard evidence that another coach cheated. If I did, I'd turn him in.
"But a lot of guys won't even do that. I've been with guys who tell jokes and laugh about other guys cheating. As long as people feel that way in our profession, it'll go on."
Duke's basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who is on the coaches legislative committee that will meet prior to the NCAA meeting in June, thinks the President's Commission's proposal would be a step in the right direction, but only a small one.
"It's like trying to put out a lot of fires," he said. "All of a sudden, a huge forest fire breaks out and you run off to put that one out and forget all the other fires. Tulane is the forest fire. What we need to do is simplify the rules and then enforce the hell out of them.
"Right now, there are so many confusing rules that a lot of coaches break rules without even knowing it. I'm sure I've broken an NCAA rule somewhere along the line and never knew it. I think the presidents need to meet with the coaches, not with the athletic directors. We're the ones on the street, and we're the ones who know the problems.
"Added enforcement is good, but let's come up with rules we can enforce. It doesn't do any good to say you're going to punish cheaters severely if you've created an environment where it's almost impossible to catch anyone."
The University of North Carolina's basketball coach, Dean Smith, thinks the commission's proposal might test the structure of the NCAA. "If the proposal is turned down, I think the Division I schools will have to consider a separate association. These are the presidents speaking, and they should be listened to. I think it's obvious that it's time for the presidents to take charge of athletics. If they think this will help, they should be listened to."
But it seems likely that there will be considerable movement, especially among the football schools, to water down the proposal.
"Anyone who is not deeply concerned with what is going on in college sports today is blind and insensitive," Corrigan said. "There's no question but that we are dealing with a crisis. But I would say that today, right now, about 25 percent of the major schools cheat. That sounds like a high number. But I would also say that 30 years ago 80 percent of them cheated.
"Back then there was less enforcement, there were less rules and people cared less. There wasn't TV and the dollars weren't so huge. Now, each time we make the rules a little tougher, there are going to be less cheaters because it's tougher to cheat.
"We've made a lot of progress. Three years ago, Florida would not have gotten the penalties it got last fall. They really got zapped. And, personally, I think if a school cheats twice in five years they should be shut down. But I think getting that proposal through will be tough.
"But," Corrigan added, "the one thing the proposal does ensure is that the June meeting will be an emotional one."