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NCAA makes big changes in scholarship rules for college athletes

KANSAS CITY — Full cost of attendance was a hot topic in July, when Big 12 football players and coaches gathered in Dallas for the annual media days. The idea was for a scholarship to include some personal expenses above tuition, books and rooms.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III would have been among the first to sign on for such a deal.

“Do we find ourselves at the end of the month needing a little more?” Griffin said. “The thing is, we’re all broke. Unless you’re getting money from somewhere else, you’re broke as a college athlete.”

The NCAA heard athletes such as Griffin and has responded with a set of sweeping changes passed last week that was stunning in scope and aggressiveness.

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved reforms that give conferences the option of adding up to $2,000 annually to a scholarship and allow schools to award multiyear scholarships.

Also, the NCAA raised the bar on academic standards and increased access for men’s basketball coaches in the recruiting process to help reduce third-party influences.

Any one of those changes would have carried a news cycle in college sports. But all of them unleashed at once spoke to the urgency felt in college sports after a recent run of high-profile embarrassments.

In the last two years, a Heisman Trophy was returned and a national championship vacated at Southern California. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign. Miami’s season started with eight players suspended for accepting booster benefits. Those were just the headliners.

NCAA president Mark Emmert has been talking tough since taking over in November 2010, and the NCAA has acted. No voting from the membership. Change is needed, now. No time for formalities.

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden participated in the August retreat of presidents and NCAA officials that laid the foundation for the changes.

“It was pretty clear then,” Alden said. “The presidents were saying we want to see changes, we want substantive changes, and we want to see them soon. (Emmert) took those as his marching orders.”

The swiftness of the implementation caught some off guard.

“We’re not surprised by sweeping reform, not surprised by the boldness of the initiatives,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “But it’s a sudden impact with no real time to deal with the consequences.

“It’s going to be a little challenging to work through all of it.”

For openers, national signing day for basketball and several other non-football sports is Nov. 9. The changes in scholarship payment and structure are set to begin next year. Schools and conferences must act quickly to approve the changes. The new models begin with the next academic year.

“People we’re recruiting are asking questions, and we don’t have the information to present to them yet,” Castiglione said. “Cost of attendance, multiyear scholarships, these are big deals.”

And it’s not as if the announcement came during a leisurely time for the Big 12. The conference is in the midst of realignment, with league officials meeting constantly during the process.

The Big 12 and other major conferences are expected to approve the changes, but it’s not certain whether all leagues can afford the additional scholarship expense. Castiglione said he spoke to an athletic director in the Western Athletic Conference who told him the school will have to come up with an additional $500,000.

“And that’s a conference without a big television contract,” Castiglione said.

Could this issue further separate the haves and have-nots? Realignment could further the split. Schools could be desperate to join conferences with lucrative television contracts for their athletic financial survival.

But athletes such as Griffin will welcome any help.

“I think there’s this misperception that we have it good,” Griffin said. “But athletes also have a misperception that since we make all the money, we should get more of it. You just can’t pay football players for playing. But you could help a little bit.”

It will help entire families, said Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy.

“We have guys on our team who take their scholarship check and send it home,” Gundy said. “That’s their choice, but some feel like they don’t have a choice. They’re taking care of their family.”

A greater concern to Big 12 football coaches is the multiyear scholarship. Until now, scholarships are renewed annually. Under the new rules, schools could guarantee a scholarship for an entire career and be unable to revoke it based solely on athletic performance. But they could be pulled for poor academic performance or misconduct.

“The reason usually is they find a prettier girl to bring to the dance,” said Ohio State professor David Ridpath, past president of The Drake Group, a NCAA watchdog committee.

But that’s not how it works at Kansas State and other schools.

“Our policy has been to never remove somebody because of performance level or injury,” Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder said.

If there was a recruiting miscalculation, “that was our mistake, not the youngster’s,” Snyder said.

Gundy said a scholarship requires responsibility from both sides.

“A scholarship to play at our level is a two-way street,” Gundy said. “We provide them with every opportunity needed to be successful in the classroom and on the football field, and they in turn give us great effort and work toward getting a degree.

“Part of that contract is us meeting our side of it and them meeting theirs.”

The academic changes have teeth. The new regulations will be phased in over the next four years. The standards will reach by 2015 a measure that is roughly a 50-percent graduation rate for the team.

Had that standard been applied to the 2010-11 school year, seven basketball teams from the 68-team tournament would have been ineligible — including the team that won the title, Connecticut.

The Huskies have already lost two scholarships based on recent Academic Progress Rate scores.

Also, eight teams wouldn’t have been able to play in a bowl game, and that could be a problem if there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams. Last year, the NCAA football postseason licensing subcommittee considered dropping the waiver to the six-victory rule if not enough teams became eligible.

The other major change was specific to men’s basketball. The NCAA dropped bans on text messaging and will allow unlimited contact with prospects after June 15 of their sophomore years. The idea is to give coaches more influence in a recruit’s life, and third-party runners less.

“That’s a good change, they’re all good changes,” Castiglione said. “But it means we have a lot of work to do and we have to do it quickly and sometimes without all the answers.”

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