Major violations of NCAA rules and academic abuses would jeopardize a university's overall accreditation, under a plan proposed yesterday by William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system and co-chairman of the Knight Commission studying reforms in big-time college sports.
"The point is athletics is an integral part of the university and should be treated as such for all purposes, including the most important thing, which is accreditation," Friday said at the end of a two-day meeting here. "If our first premise is correct -- that the presidents are in charge, that he's the guiding policy maker -- then clearly this has to be regulated."
Charles Cook, who represents the New England Association, one of six regional accrediting agencies, said it would be possible to include athletic departments in that process because "it's a basic matter of honesty and integrity."
He also said it would serve as "a powerful tool to deal with those things on our campuses," especially at some large state institutions at which presidents are pressured by trustees and politicians who control appropriations to have successful athletic teams.
"It's easier to deal with when I tell you you have to do it," Cook said as one of five witnesses discussing methods to certify compliance in areas of academic and financial integrity.
The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, Knight Commission co-chairman and president emeritus of Notre Dame, said he expects this concept to be included in the commission's final report, due to be released March 19. "This is going to be something for this commission to say something about, and say it with a clear, strong voice," Friday said.
Not everyone agreed on the method. UCLA Chancellor Charles Young and Michigan State President John DiBiaggio appeared to favor an NCAA pilot program for NCAA compliance staff certifying programs, and they suggested expanding it to include senior administrators, faculty, students and alumni.
Ken Pye, president of Southen Methodist University, argued that including athletics in the accreditation process "can't be done as well as the certification model," because of time constraints and possibly inexperienced personnel chosen to do the evaluation.
What was supposed to be the commission's final public meeting covered a broad range, with student-athletes, faculty and a shoe company trade association executive testifying. Friday and Hesburg were so impressed with the athletes that Friday said it is likely the commission will schedule two more public meetings to hear from those who have faced academic problems in high school and college.
Friday said the commission will meet in executive session in September to draft the form of its final report and then hear from student-athletes at public sessions in November and early December. Hesburg said the commission has been unsuccessful so far in getting students with bad academic experiences to testify.
Hesburgh said another major focus of the final report, based on yesterday's testimony, will be high school preparation. "It's clear we have to say something about the high schools, because we don't get people out of the blue. . . . We have youngsters come in with 1350 SATs but we also get youngsters who have not had a good high school experience. They've been used; they haven't had a good educational experience."
Thomas Hearn, a commission member and president of Wake Forest, said standards for initial eligibility should be increased beyond the current Proposition 48 standards.
Efforts by a group of college commissioners, who proposed a reform package that included an increase in academic standards, was delayed for a year by the Presidents Commission, which said it would not have a five-year study of academic data completed in time for a vote of the NCAA convention in January.
Richard Lapchick, director of the Northeastern University-based Center for Study of Sport in Society, emphasized the need to push for higher standards and also said that academic integrity for athletes is a more pervasive issue than compliance across all segments of athletics, from Division I-A to NAIA.
He pushed for national adoption of a no-pass, no-play policy in high school. He said only six states and several hundred individual school districts out of 16,000 nationwide have such a policy. And he cited examples of how athletes will respond to higher standards.
In Texas, a hotbed of high school football, coaches have responded by scheduling 7:30 a.m. study halls. When Texas adopted the no-pass, no-play rule, 20 percent of its athletes were ineligible. That figure is down to 7 percent, and the study halls are seen as sending the athletes a positive sign about academics, Lapchick said.
Lapchick also pointed to Savannah, Ga., where the first semester of no-pass, no-play produced 60 percent ineligibility. "The second semester it was down to 8 percent," and the school district raised the no-pass, no-play to C+, he said.
Gregg Hartley, executive director of the Athletic Footwear Association (which represents 90 of the 98 athletic shoe companies doing business in the United States), told the commission he plans to implement "voluntary guidelines" that would prevent companies from making contracts with high school coaches.
Later, Hartley said such guidelines would prohibit both written contracts and informal arrangments such as providing shoes for a high school team in return for the coach's time at clinics. He said the rules likely will be in place within two years, and he foresees no problem in having the guidelines adopted and followed by the companies.
Hartley said he believes the footwear companies also would be receptive to a plan proposed by some commission members that would require all of a collegiate coach's contracts for outside income -- including those with shoe companies -- to be negotiated with the university rather than directly with the coach.