August 12, 2011 10:21:00 AM
Following an intensive two-day retreat of approximately 50 Division I college leaders, a clear message was sent to athletic programs: If you''re not willing to compete in the classroom, your school won''t have the opportunity to do the same on the playing field.
"The presidents all came together with a very clear, strong consensus that status quo and continued order of the day is insufficient and that we need to have change in a number of key areas and we need to have it quickly," NCAA President Mark Emmert said.
Following up on the retreat''s mandate to toughen academic standards, the NCAA Board of Directors voted to ban Division I teams with a four-year academic progress rating below 930 from participating in the postseason, including all NCAA postseason and football bowl games.
Before Thursday, the previous cutoff four-year mark was 900 before scholarships were taken away or more serious punishments were enacted.
"It''s time for tough love in intercollegiate athletics," said Tim White, president of the University of California-Riverside and a member of the NCAA Executive Committee. "It''s as simple as that. It has to be timely, but it has to be tough."
A four-year average academic progress rate measures how well a program keeps players in school, keeps them eligible, and makes sure they graduate within their college eligibility timetable.
University of Hartford (Conn.) President Walt Harrison, who heads the NCAA committee that oversees academic issues, said there also is interest in applying the cutoff to football bowls, which aren''t run by the association. A mark of 930, which predicts an approximately 50 percent graduation rate, would have affected six of last season''s 70 bowl participants, and 17 of 120 major-college teams.
"We have made some very significant recommendations we want to turn into action. We will begin working on this immediately," Emmert said. "We will come before this group no later than October with a clear action agenda to implement the ideas that were developed over the past two days. Some of that action began today."
Under the new standards, 12 teams would not have qualified for this year''s NCAA men''s basketball tournament, including Ohio State and Syracuse. As of May 2011, Connecticut''s APR score dropped to 893. If the new Mendoza line was in place immediately, UConn wouldn''t be able to defend its national championship.
The last time any Mississippi State athletic program finished below 930 was volleyball in 2007, but its 927 rating was before MSU administration hired Jenny Hazelwood as head coach.
"I respect and admire NCAA President Mark Emmert''s vision and recognition of the urgency for change from the status quo," MSU President Mark Keenum said. "There was a very real sense of urgency among all of the presidents during our discussions."
MSU football coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday after a practice he is in constant communication with Keenum and MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin.
"We have a great relationship, so he''ll always check with me about certain football issues but, of course, he''ll make the best decision for Mississippi State University," Mullen said. "I feel very fortunate we don''t have a them-versus-us mentality here."
NCAA Division I presidents concluded their summit Wednesday by calling for bold, sweeping changes to improve intercollegiate athletics.
"There is an unwavering determination to change a number of things about intercollegiate athletics today," Penn State President Graham Spanier said. "Presidents are fed up with the rule breaking that is out there. We are determined to elevate the academic standards. We are concerned about the rapidly escalating costs of running intercollegiate athletics programs."
Keenum was one of 50 leaders invited to the retreat that produced five priorities for the agenda of college athletics: Re-write the NCAA rulebook to reduce the number of rules and focus on the most significant issues, improve academic standards for student-athletes and tie a team''s academic performance to participation in all NCAA championships, revamp the NCAA penalty structure and increase the levels of violations, refocus the NCAA enforcement staff to concentrate on major infractions, and strengthen the academic requirements for incoming freshmen and student-athletes who transfer from two-year institutions.
"We plan to make some decisions across very important areas in a matter of months and weeks, not in years," Emmert said in a news release. "No one in the world believes we are capable of making significant change, so we need to prove we can."
Emmert said he expects a formalized plan to be in place by October, but he said he, Harrison, and the committee need to come up with a timetable for implementing the structure.