NASHVILLE, JAN. 5 -- When the 85th annual NCAA convention gets down to business this week, the organization's members will vote on more than 180 legislative proposals covering virtually every volatile issue in intercollegiate athletics.
They may take one of their broadest steps in the glacial move toward reform by limiting the amount of time student-athletes can spend playing or officially practicing their sports each week, eliminating athletic dormitories, reducing the number of athletic scholarships, scaling back recruiting, and limiting as well as reducing coaching staffs.
Alternatively, the members may take an equally significant stride toward intervention by state legislatures and/or Congress.
"Basically, they have an opportunity to really make some progress and retain control over their intercollegiate programs," NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz said during a recent teleconference. "Based on what some politicians are saying, I think you can probably safely say that if the NCAA doesn't take steps to pass these reform issues, there's good support for Congressional action to create reform and create a different structure."
Although some influential people in intercollegiate athletics question the willingness of elected officials to drop the hammer on the NCAA, no one seems to question the need for serious handiwork. Voting begins Tuesday.
"Whether they would come in and run our business, I don't know. There are some powerful pressure groups that might lean on people when the time comes," Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Gene Corrigan said Friday.
But, noting the almost unpre-cedented cooperation among college presidents, athletic directors and others involved with intercollegiate athletics over the past year or so, Corrigan also said, "I think the feeling going in is, 'This is what needs to get done, and this is what's going to get done.' "
What most believe needs to get done is a reduction in the amount of money schools spend on athletics and the amount of time students spend on athletics. What some would like to see is a homogenization of schools based essentially on the overall amount of money they spend on intercollegiate athletics.
What is actually going to get done is another matter.
Of the big three issues at this convention -- cost reduction, reform and structure -- structure is the one over which there is the greatest fundamental disagreement. Under a plan that would establish criteria for membership in Division I, schools would have to sponsor seven sports for men and seven for women (with indoor and outdoor track counting as one) and provide a minimum amount of financial aid for those sports.
Naturally, this displeases quite a few schools that have beefed up support for their men's basketball programs in the hope of getting a piece of the considerable Division I pie. Although the tournament revenues are being based on criteria such as breadth of program rather than success in the tournament, there is still a prestige factor involved. If the proposed Division I criteria are passed, it is believed that as many as 50 schools might go from Division I to Division II or III.
Under one proposal, Division I schools would be prohibited from playing Division III football. If this passes, Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo said the school probably would end up dropping football rather than spending the millions of dollars it would need to upgrade the program to Division I-A or Division I-AA.
But there might be an escape hatch for Georgetown -- a proposal to delay the effective date for the elimination of this cross-classification to 1996 and a resolution to examine the creation of a I-AAA football classification for schools in its situation. The question is whether I-AAA schools would be permitted to play Division III schools, as Rienzo said Georgetown would like.
In the reform and cost-reduction areas, a great deal will be at stake for Schultz and the Presidents Commission, a group of presidents and chancellors from all three divisions intent on enacting change in intercollegiate athletics. Schultz has said he thinks it is important for the presidents to have control over athletics. However, the last time they tried to make a major stand -- at a special convention on cost-reduction in 1987 -- they failed miserably, as athletic directors voted them down almost across the board.
This time the presidents are taking a different approach. Rather than unilaterally attempting to propose legislation, they came up with general proposals and asked conference commissioners and athletic directors to develop the legislative specifics. They worked closely with the Conference of Conferences, a group of Division I conference commissioners and officials, as well as NCAA committees studying cost-reduction and reviewing membership structure.
"A lot of people feel like they were a part of the process," Pacific-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said, "and I think it's going to pay dividends."
To help create a climate for the passage of the proposals that these liaisons created, the presidents also retained John Ryan, former president of Indiana University and the first chairman of the Presidents Commission chair, and Wilford Bailey, a former Auburn faculty representative and NCAA president. Ryan and Bailey have been helping to keep things organized and will continue to do so during the convention.
In addition, most votes of import to the presidents will be by roll call.
"The presidents are going to be ready to compete and debate," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.
But even if they are successful, there will be more work to be done. Schultz said if all the cost-cutting proposals are passed, Division I-A schools stand to annually save $500,000 to $600,000. Meanwhile, the Knight Commission on intercollegiate athletic reform is waiting with a set of recommendations it probably will release in March.
"I don't know that I can say" that this will be the most important convention the NCAA has ever had, Schultz said. "But I think it's an important convention, simply because it's another step forward in creating a different model under which we operate our athletic programs. To me that's very important."
Reduce the number of scholarships in all Division I sports by 10 percent, with a three-year phase-in for football and a two-year phase-in for basketball.
Phase out use of athletic dorms, wings and floors over next five years.
Create time limits on in-season practice and competition to 20 hours per week and four hours per day, with one day off per week required. Athletes may work on their own, using school facilities.
Create out-of-season organized practice time limits of eight hours per week for weight and conditioning activities. (Football spring practice is excepted.)
Restore length of spring football practice to 20 sessions in 36 days, from the 15 sessions in 21 days voted at last year's convention.
Reduce the length of Division I and II basketball seasons from 28 games to 27 games, rather than 25 as was voted at last year's convention.
Reduce length of all other Division I and II sports seasons except football.
Prohibit Division I schools from providing student-athletes more than one training table meal per day when regular dining facilities are open.
Permit nonqualifiers under so-called Proposition 48 to earn fourth season of eligibility if they meet certain criteria. RECRUITING
Create annual recruiting certification program for Division I coaches that would involve standardized national test on NCAA recruiting regulations.
Require a prospect to have taken SAT or ACT before being eligible for paid recruiting visit to a school.
Prohibit Division I and II schools from sending recruiting materials to prospects until beginning of their junior years in high school.
Limit amount and type of recruiting materials that can be sent to prospect.
Prohibit Division I or II schools from making telephone calls to or having off-campus contact with prospects or their parents prior to July 1 following the completion of prospect's junior year in high school.
Limit subsequent phone calls to prospect or prospect's parents to one per week. COACHING STAFFS
Reduce and/or limit size of Division I coaching staffs. MEMBERSHIP STRUCTURE
Establish criteria for Division I membership.
Eliminate most so-called cross-classification, such as Division I schools playing Division II or Division III football. FOOTBALL BOWL GAMES
Eliminate restrictions and deadlines regarding football bowl games. RESOLUTIONS
Create legislation for '92 convention that would permit student-athletes to enter pro sports drafts without immediately losing their eligibility.
Create legislation for '92 convention that would establish an approximately three-month recruiting calendar for various sports.