NCAA's academic penalties stiffened

Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 12:03 a.m.

ORLANDO — The NCAA on Monday stiffened penalties for teams that don't meet its new academic progress standards in consecutive years, culminating in an eventual postseason ban.

The changes approved on the last day of the NCAA's annual convention will take effect in spring 2008. A team would lose its postseason eligibility after four years of underperformance, following a public warning and increased scholarship cuts and restrictions on practice time.

"Four years is a long time for an institution to be told, 'You're not doing well in academic performance,' so we think in that fourth year there ought to be some penalties of consequence," said Walt Harrison, chairman of the NCAA's committee on academic performance.

Also on Monday the NCAA opened the door for Canadian teams to seek membership as part of a 10-year pilot program. NCAA President Myles Brand said it would likely affect only a small handful of schools — no more than three.

"This is not a massive change, but conceptually it's an interesting change," he said.

The NCAA's three divisions would still need to pass rules specifically allowing Canadian schools before their membership could be solicited. Even then, college sport wouldn't have a U.S.-Canadian championship game for some time, as the entry process takes about seven years.

The convention concluded without rule changes on two of the highest-profile measures the NCAA faced.

Division I was considering different proposals to restrict or ban text messages between coaches and recruits. The committee defeated a plan with time and date limits, but returned to members for discussion another that would ban electronic communications altogether except e-mail and fax.

The use of text messages was allowed in 2004, under the assumption that they would be less intrusive than phone calls. However, top recruits say they're getting dozens of texts per day, which can be time-consuming and costly to field.

"I'm not sure if we passed a rule at this point we would get it right," Brand said, adding that he thinks the next wave of "video messaging" is already taking hold. "I personally think that we can be very intrusive in the lives of these young people, particularly in class time. Something needs to be done."

Division III deferred a decision to limit the participation of male players in female practices. Some in women's athletics have said it undermines Title IX, while proponents have argued it has made female athletes better.

Many representatives of the Division III conferences and nearly 500 schools who voted on the proposal said they wanted further study. Though their actions would affect only Division III, they could foretell similar changes in the NCAA's upper tiers. No change will be made until at least next year, when members are gathered for the 2008 convention in Nashville.

The NCAA also released results of a survey of more than 20,000 student-athletes in which 15 to 20 percent said athletics "prevented them from majoring in what they really want." However, fewer than 5 percent said they regretted the decision, and 90 percent said they were pleased with their declared major.

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