NCAA’s power has increased

Thursday, July 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:01 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Because of its role in college sports, schools want to know what the NCAA has to say.

“When the NCAA speaks, people listen,” Rex Campbell, an MU Faculty Council member, said one afternoon in his office.

Missouri is listening more these days because the NCAA began an investigation a year ago into the men’s basketball program. Missouri received a notice of allegations from the NCAA on May 7, detailing suspected violations the association uncovered during its investigation. Today is the deadline for the university’s response.

The NCAA wasn’t always the athletics authority it is now. It wasn’t until the 1930s and ‘40s, when the love of sport took a back seat to the business of sport, that the NCAA began to express authority through rules enforcement.

The group’s goal has always been “to promote, emphasize standards that athletes should live by,” said Alan Chapman, a former Rice University faculty representative to the NCAA who served as the athletics authority’s president in 1973-74.

A four-part series on the NCAA’s history, which appears on its Web site, tells the following story:

When the organization was formed in 1906, with faculty representatives from 62 institutions, its only concern was football, which was then unregulated. The primitive version of the game didn’t require helmets, mouthpieces or facemasks, and players suffered fatal injuries during the game with enough regularity that it became a concern.

The NCAA, then known as the Intercollegiate Athletics Association of the United States, developed guidelines to reform the sport with the help of then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who was an avid football fan. It had not developed an enforcement program, so it was up to schools to decide whether to implement the guidelines.

College sports saw a boom in the 1930s and ‘40s, and evidence of professional gambling on college football and basketball games surfaced. It became clear that sports could be a financial gain for universities, and there was temptation to not follow the guidelines.

In an effort to become more regulatory, the NCAA adopted five principles in 1940, known as the “Sanity Code,” which defined an amateur player as one who’s sport is an avocation, called for financial aid to students to be offered based on academic achievement. It held student-athletes to the same academic standards as the rest of the student body and implemented recruiting standards prohibiting luring a prospective student-athlete with the promise of financial aid.

At its annual convention that year, the NCAA’s executive committee was authorized to investigate alleged institutional violations of the principles and issue penalties.

Faculty representatives governed the NCAA until the 1980s, but as college sports teams became more professional, so did the association.

Conferences began to hire businessmen to run things, and athletics directors replaced faculty representatives in NCAA leadership roles.

Scandals broke throughout the 1980s, detailing events in which athletics departments increasingly tolerated academic cheating and disregarded the welfare of student-athletes in pursuit of financial gain.

The problem got so bad the federal government threatened to clean up athletics.

“The business side got more and more complicated,” Chapman said. “(University) presidents and chancellors had to get involved.”

The academic reputations of schools were being tarnished, and institutional presidents were called on to take an active role in athletics reform. In the 1990s, they did.

The Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an alliance of school presidents, proposed a reform package to the NCAA in 1991 to address cost containment of sports, time demands on student-athletes and the restructuring of the NCAA.

The same year, the NCAA adopted the reform package, implementing a “20-hour rule” that intended to limit student-athletes to 20 hours of competition or required practice time during a playing season.

The cost-containment legislation led to a 10 percent reduction in scholarships offered to universities and a reduction in the time coaches are allowed to spend recruiting. The restructuring legislation divided the NCAA into three divisions and defined what institutions should be in which division based on the size of athletics departments.

Today, the NCAA’s presidential committees must be composed of college and university chief executive officers.

Although CEOs, who are ultimately responsible for the academic and athletics reputations of their schools, are “subject to a lot of economic and political issues that representatives were insulated from,” Chapman said. “It’s functioning pretty well right now.”

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