NCAA chief Dick Schultz says his organization has "turned the corner" on cleaning up college sports, bringing an end to an era marked by illegal player payments, doctored transcipts and a total disregard by some programs of NCAA rules.
Over the last two years, the NCAA has come down hard on major, high-profile programs it has found to have violated the rules. Southern Methodist's once-proud football program was given the "death penalty" for a litany of violations stretching back to 1981.Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Houston had their football programs put on severe probations which included no bowl games or television. Kansas saw its chances of defending the NCAA Division I basketball title dashed by probation.
The University of Kentucky, meanwhile, is waiting to see what action, if any, the NCAA will take against its fabled basketball pro-gram.
"It's (the large number of probations) a catchup thing," said Schultz, who will preside over the NCAA's annual convention, which opens in San Francisco Sunday. "What's happening to the Oklahomas, Houstons and Oklahomas States is not an indication of what is currently going on in college athletics. What we are doing is cleaning up old cases. Our goal is to have all the old cases cleaned up within a year."
The high-profile probations have sent out the word, Schultz says, that the NCAA will not longer tolerate cheating.
"What's happening is important because it sends a signal out to the schools, that if you break the rules, you're going to get caught," he said.
That, the NCAA chief says, wasn't always the case.
"I think there are two reasons that it has taken so long for these cases to come out," he said. "First, we were undermanned in our enforcement area. We've made strides toward making sure that our enforcement division now stays at full strength. Secondly, our investigators do not have subpoena power so they must rely on the universities for help. If an university chooses not to cooperate, it becomes very difficult."
Schultz says he's confident that once the long-standing violation cases have been cleaned up, college athletics will enjoy a golden era.
"I think you will see a quiet time now," Schultz said. "Intercollegiate athletics, as far as integrity, is in the best shape it's been in in years. Our enforcement people feel we have turned the corner. We think for the first time in years schools are doing things right."
The NCAA also has made funds available to members to set up their own compliance offices within the individal school's athletic department.
"We feel the first line of attack with compliance has to be within the school itself," he said. "We hope, with this kind of constant evaluation, that a situation like an SMU will not ever happen again."
While many college officials feel vigilance will help stop violations, they also believe that paying college athletes for their services would stem a school's temptation to make illegal payments.
"I don't think there is any question at the Division I level that schools are looking for ways to provide more resources for athletes," Schultz said. "But how do you do that? Just pay out a stipend? I think very few schools could afford that and it would eventually open up their athletic departments to the IRS and workmen's compensation cases."
While the flurry of NCAA probations has captured the media spotlight for the last two years, Schultz says other issues have also troubled the organization.
The NCAA has been forced to wage a major battle against sports agents on the nation's college campuses. Two years ago, a host of athletes - including Ohio State wide receiver Chris Carter - lost their eligibility for dealing with agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom while still underclassmen.
Schultz says his organization needs help in containing illegal agent activities.
"I really don't think we can control them (agents) by ourselves," he said. "We need help from state legisla-tors."
The Carter affair also brought to the surface the issue of underclassmen signings with the NFL. Currently, a college player cannot enter the NFL draft unless his class has graduated.
"I don't think necessarily we should be encouraging athletes to leave early," Schultz said. "Just look at the numbers of the people who make it in the pros. They're not encouraging."
On the issue of drug testing, Schultz says a setback in the California court and in the state of Washington has not deterred the NCAA from continuing its program.
"We plan to continue our testing program until one of two things happen," he said. "Either a federal court tells us we can't or the members decide to change the program."