Dick Harmon: NCAA reform puts student back in athlete

Published: Monday, Oct. 31 2011 8:36 p.m. MDT

The NCAA reforms passed last week are long overdue.

But if I had to choose, I'd side with the academic points over the money issue, even if it is the money issue that will eventually explode like a volcano.

In a nutshell, here are the major points passed last Thursday:

The NCAA approved a plan whereby conferences could vote to have members pay up to $2,000 a year to each student-athlete for the cost of attending. It would be a stipend above and beyond the price of a scholarship and the training, medical and academic support they currently receive.

Also NCAA-approved was a plan in which teams that do not meet a minimum standard of academic progress by athletes can be banned from participating in the NCAA basketball tournament and could lose other privileges such as practice time and bowl trips.

Athletes could use some more money. If you pile up the amount that is made off them, it's heaped sky high. CBS and Turner Sports are one year into a 14-year, $11 billion deal with the NCAA — just for college basketball.

If the NCAA and its universities are pocketing that kind of coin, why not share the bounty with those on the field and the court?

On the other hand, there are many young people out there who, just because they can't run fast or jump high, simply can't go to college. Others are taking out student loans, selling their financial souls decades into the future to get a degree. An athletic scholarship is worth gold.

Academically, these reforms take on a whole different hue.

The current college sports scene has plenty of examples of athletes who simply are not academically qualified to represent institutions of higher learning. They are student-athletes in word and process only. We cheer for them because they excel and win, but it has little to do with bookwork.

This academic reform puts some semblance of schoolwork back in the scene.

If this new stuff had been in force this past year, UConn wouldn't have been allowed into the NCAA Tournament, where the Huskies never lost a game in Big East or NCAA tourney play.

Incoming transfer athletes will need higher grade point averages and test scores. This would sorely challenge some schools to find more worthy applicants when recruiting at junior colleges or when athletes jump from one school to another.

All sports will have to meet a higher academic progress score. This is an index that determines the success a school demonstrates in moving athletes toward graduation with appropriate passing marks.

This is a little tougher for some local universities like BYU, and to some extent, Utah and Utah State, which have athletes enroll for a semester or two and then serve two-year missions. There is no formula to account for absence from school for missions, and it nicks the numbers, especially in football.

This could be addressed by having recruits go on missions before enrolling or gray-shirting (not participating the first year on scholarship).

"It's a severe penalty if you don't reach the standard," University of South Florida men's basketball coach Stan Heath said. "Our national champion wouldn't have made the cut. That sends a huge message. The antennae are up for everyone in terms of making sure the academics are where they need to be."

Back to the money.

It is expected the six BCS conferences will quickly pass the money reform. Since they have more sacks of money than outsiders like the MWC, WAC and C-USA, they can do it easier, and it will widen the gulf between those who have money and those who don't.

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