INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mark Emmert is trying to make common sense a common practice in college sports.
Two years ago, he presided over one of the most scandalous years in college history.
On Thursday, when the NCAA president speaks at the organization’s annual convention in suburban Dallas, he’ll try to explain why the image of college sports is improving thanks to tougher academic standards, tougher penalties for rule-breakers, an expedited enforcement process and the possibility of a revised rulebook.
It’s all part of a grand plan.
“You can’t legislate common sense, good judgment and discretion,” Emmert told The Associated Press this week. “When we’ve done that in the past, we’ve ended up with these highly enforced rules that become scofflaw. It’s become a cat-and-mouse game between teams and the enforcement of rules that are, frankly, of minor importance. Whether you’re using text messages or email isn’t really a consequential issue. The size of the envelope and color of paper you send to recruits isn’t that important.”
Instead, Emmert wants athletic departments to focus their attention on two key premises: Fair play on the field and academic success off of it.
And Emmert is willing to throw away the traditional book, literally.
He supports a package of sweeping rule changes that would allow college athletes and recruits to accept more money to cover expenses for non-scholastic events, earn more prize money and allow schools and conference officials to pay for medical expenses of athletes. The proposals also include the creation of a uniform recruiting calendar for all sports, eliminating regulating how coaches communicate with recruits and how often they can contact them outside of no-contact periods, which will remain in place.
The board of directors is expected to pass the entire package Saturday. If approved, the new rules will effect Aug. 1.
“The entire (rules) working group has done an amazing job of going through the rulebook with a clear and concise eye of eliminating those things that are unenforceable or aren’t as germane to the issue of fair play as we thought,” Emmert said.
Clearly, the NCAA can’t legislate everything.
When Emmert acknowledged 2012 was a far better year for colleges in terms of scandals, he cautioned that he continually worries another could pop up.
The latest chapter came Wednesday when Notre Dame announced a story about the death of Manti Te’o's girlfriend was in fact a hoax perpetrated on the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
Still, Emmert is doing everything he can to create a new image for the NCAA.
He remains supportive of rule changes that delve into financial aid, playing seasons and practice times. Those could be passed later this year.
Emmert also wants athletes to have a chance at receiving stipends of up to $2,000 toward the full cost of attendance. That proposal was passed by the board of directors in October 2011, but was put on hold two months later when enough schools signed an override petition. Most of the school’s objections fall into four categories — they disagree with the NCAA’s philosophical change, are concerned about additional costs, when those costs will appear on budgets and Title IX compliance.
“It’s one thing for the Michigans or Ohio States or Southern Cals that are generating a lot of revenue to do this. For the other schools, I think that’s going to be tough,” said Matt Mitten, a law professor and director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “I think a lot of this will be determined internally with smaller schools saying we can’t afford it.”
NCAA leaders have been trying to devise a new model for the stipend that the members will support. The board is scheduled to hear three possible concepts this weekend and Emmert hopes there will be a vote on a formal proposal this summer.
Despite the changes, Emmert’s overall philosophy of the NCAA has not changed.
It still has to set guidelines and enforce rules.
But with a broad rulebook to keep the focus on the NCAA’s bedrock principles rather than ticky-tack infractions, penalties that are tough enough to dissuade cheating and updated operational guidelines, Emmert believes the NCAA can become more effective and efficient at doing its job — even if everything isn’t perfect right away.
“We’re not chiseling out the Ten Commandments here,” Emmert said. “I’ve told them to get it is as right as you can (on rules) and bring them (members) along with you. Right now, I couldn’t be happier with where we are in terms of that agenda.”
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