Commissioner says academic reform needs some tweaking

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005

TUSCALOOSA — In a room full of sports writers, the key topic of conversation wasn't instant replay in college football but academics.

The commissioners of four athletic conferences were complimentary of the new academic requirements for student-athletes, but at the same time said that the NCAA needs to tweak the process.

"We support the (Academic Reform Package), but there are some serious issues that need to be addressed with regards to (a student's academic progress) before we move ahead," said Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.

Academic reform for student-athletes was just one of the topics touched on during a roundtable discussion during the 34th annual Alabama Sports Writers Association Convention at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Monday.

Joining Slive were commissioners Dr. John Steinbrecher of the Ohio Valley Conference, Robert Vowels of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Wright Waters of the Sun Belt Conference. All four conferences have member institutions within the state.

The new policy was passed in May when the 2003 NCAA Graduation Report indicated that 44 percent of men's basketball players and 54 percent of football players graduated within six years.

This policy will call for institutions and coaches to be held accountable when it comes to student-athlete graduation rates.

Schools that fall shy of standards set by the NCAA would face penalties, including loss of scholarships, recruiting limits and postseason bans.

While Slive said that he is for the APR, he did point out a flaw in the penalty phase and used the University of North Carolina's national championship basketball team as an example.

"Carolina won the national championship and has four players, who are in good academic standing with the university, looking at going to the National Basketball Association and will not graduate," he said. "If the test is graduation, you can't graduate unless you are retained."

But with the higher standards the NCAA has set, Vowels predicts that more kids will fall through the cracks.

"Our admission standards at our schools aren't like those at other conferences because we give an opportunity to a child who normally would not get an opportunity (to go to college)," Vowels said. "The kids will be hurt by (the new academic standards), but they will make adjustments."

Slive added that the responsibility of getting student-athletes prepared for the higher academic standards at the college level starts at the high school level.

"Preparation needs to begin early in high school," he said.

Another topic for discussion that Slive expounded on was the SEC's adoption of instant replay for the upcoming football season. Production crews will be on hand for each game around the conference with a booth set up just for instant replay.

A demonstration will be given at SEC Media Days in July to show just how instant replay will be used and there will be a set criteria of exactly what can and can't be reviewed, Slive said.

"This is an experiment now, but I can see us using instant replay in the future," Slive said.

In light of the rising number of brawls on the field of play in college and professional games, conferences are taking a stern stand on fan behavior by holding the institutions accountable for their actions.

Slive said the SEC has instituted fines against universities where fans charge onto the playing field whether it be basketball or football. And the fines get steeper with each occurrence.

The first offense will cost $5,000, but the second and third jump to $25,000 and $50,000.

"We all have our crazies," Steinbrecher said. "I was at a football game one day and this fan just started spewing vulgarities and I asked, 'why are you doing that.'

"He said that he was helping his team win. They think they are part of the team or they are helping their team win."

While there is no secret that there is alcohol consumption before a football game, there are still some universities that sell alcohol during games.

Waters was quick to point out that his conference has three schools in Louisiana.

"There, it's how old do you have to be, and in New Orleans you have to be old enough to put your money on the bar," he said. "We are concerned about it, but its all in how it's administered."

Waters said that some schools cut off sales after halftime and other by the beginning of the fourth quarter.