Knight Commission Calls on NCAA to Shorten Basketball Season

[Sessions and audio with experts and researchers on academic performance in men's basketball; and NCAA infractions]

Commission plans further oversight of academic reform and associated sanctions

Washington, D.C. – The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics held discussions here Tuesday on academic reform, potential changes in the basketball playing season, and changes to penalties for violating National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. The Commission called on the NCAA to shorten the season to reduce the number of missed classes and stress on players. It also commended the association’s academic performance program, but noted that a complex waiver process is threatening to weaken standards designed to hold programs responsible for the academic progress of their players.

“The basketball season is too long, there are too many games and too many road trips, and the grades of these athletes show the consequences,” said William E. “Brit” Kirwan, Knight Commission Co-Chairman and Chancellor of the University System of Maryland. “Let’s adopt a schedule that is in the best interest of the athletes, not the TV programmers.”

Also at its meeting here Tuesday, the Commission:

· Urged the NCAA to reject efforts to dilute academic reform and to raise minimum academic standards to ensure that at least 50 percent of athletes earn degrees.
· Expressed concern that waivers of penalties for poor academic performance may be too easy to receive under the current system, and called for more transparency in the waiver process.
· Discussed proposals to strengthen the penalties for NCAA rules violations, but did not take a position on the issue.

NCAA officials told the Commission that 91 percent of the teams at member institutions surpassed minimum requirements for academic success, while 218 teams at 123 institutions have been sanctioned for failing to meet the minimum academic benchmarks during the 2006-7 academic year. The majority of teams penalized lost scholarships, and 26 teams will be subject to postseason sanctions in the 2009-10 academic year unless scores improve.

In its 2001 report, the Commission recommended penalizing teams failing to graduate at least 50 percent of their players. Since then, the Commission has supported the NCAA’s Academic Performance Program, despite pressure to weaken it from coaches and other groups.

“We see clear academic progress. We know this program is changing behavior, and we celebrate it,” said R. Gerald Turner, Knight Commission Co-Chairman and Southern Methodist University President. “But the Commission was concerned about the potential of diluting this program. Ultimately, the new system will work only to the extent that the standards are consistently applied and enforced.”

The Knight Commission also heard a report on proposals to improve the academic performance of men’s basketball teams. An NCAA working group on this issue will finalize a set of recommendations in October on subjects including the following:

· Requiring summer school attendance and expanding the time during which coaches can work directly with the players on their basketball skills.
· Reducing the number of missed classes by reducing the length of the playing season; and, by limiting the number of away conference games.
· Providing more waiver flexibility and opportunities for APR score adjustments under special circumstances, such as head coaching transitions.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics also announced the addition of three new members: Sarah Lowe, Sonja Steptoe and Christopher Zorich.

Sarah Lowe graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Florida in May 2006. She was a leader on Florida’s women’s basketball team, serving as team captain three of her four years. Following her graduation, she studied in Costa Rica as a Fulbright Scholar.

Sonja Steptoe serves as client development manager at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, an international law firm based in Los Angeles. Prior to joining O’Melveny in 2007, Steptoe served as a senior correspondent and deputy news director for Time magazine for five years following a successful career in sports journalism. She earned degrees in economics and journalism at the University of Missouri and a law degree from Duke University.

A two-time All-American at Notre Dame, Christopher Zorich was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He played in the NFL for seven seasons. Zorich received a bachelor of arts in American Studies as well as his law degree from Notre Dame. After working at a law firm for four years and then devoting time to his foundation, which provides scholarships and other financial assistance to students and families in the Chicago area, Zorich recently returned to his alma mater to serve as the manager of student welfare and development.

The Commission will meet again in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Oct. 27, 2008.

Multimedia Files
Audio podcast of the first session (mp3), “Academic Integrity: Report on the NCAA Academic Performance Program and the recommendations to improve academic performance of men’s basketball players.” Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Paul Hewitt and NCAA officials discuss the impact of the academic reforms with commission members.

Audio podcast of the second session (mp3), “NCAA Infractions: An examination of trends, recommendations to restructure penalties, and challenges.” Panelists Josephine Potuto, Gene Marsh, Mike Glazier, and Chad McEvoy discussed NCAA penalties for major rules violations and the principles that should drive any potential changes.

Several organizations have reported on the meeting, including Inside Higher Ed and USA Today.