Jan. 14, 2005
By Dennis Dodd
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Dennis your opinion!


Might as well beat the NCAA to publicly outing these major-college football programs.


Mack Brown's record at Texas: 70 wins, 19 losses, 27 percent graduation rate. (Getty Images)
Minnesota. Houston. Texas. Utah.

The Association would have us believe all of the above are about to be put on double-secret probation. Or something close to it. The NCAA basically said so this week when it got to the heart of the matter of academic performance. Fall below a 50 percent graduation rate, and programs could lose scholarships, postseason berths and, worst case, NCAA membership.

How's that feel, Flubbed Four? Embarrassed enough? All four of those programs graduated no more than 40 percent of their players -- oops, sorry, student-athletes -- according the latest grad rates. The NCAA already has said 30 percent of I-A falls below its new Academic Performance Rate (APR) standard that approximates those current NCAA grad rates.

Those four might or might not be in that group when warnings are issued sometime soon, but their recent track record isn't good. And there will be more.

Later this month or early February, the NCAA will start sending out letters to schools that fall below the APR cut line of 925 (approximately 50 percent). By 2006, offenders could start losing scholarships (up to 10 percent in each sport).

Then a postseason ban. Imagine Texas being told it can't go bowling.

The next punishment stage is essentially a new version of the NCAA's death penalty -- loss of membership.

"We're talking about rather strong penalties here," NCAA president Myles Brand said, adding, "We're talking about the level of major infraction penalties."

And it might just work. For once, the NCAA has some legislation with teeth -- or at least the red-cheek factor. If nothing else, the "offenders" will be chagrined. The NCAA plans a very public process in notifying and penalizing schools that fall below 925.

The idea being: Imagine Texas letting things slip to a postseason ban. Supposedly, it won't.

Schools' grad rates will be tracked term-by-term, year-by-year instead of the antiquated federally mandated six-year window, which was akin to looking at a distant star. Sometimes many coaches, presidents and athletic directors ago.

The APR is more accurate in that it takes into account transfers going in and out of the program who leave in good academic standing.

But for now, the old antiquated system is all we have to go on, which is why the four schools were selected for this mini-public flogging. According to the NCAA, 27 percent of the Texas freshman football players entering school in 1997-98 got their degrees within six years.

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Minnesota was at 38 percent; Houston, 39 percent; Utah, 40 percent.

Again, the four aren't necessarily going to get the APR chokehold. But the highway to "Hello, NCAA warning" has been paved. Max offenders could lose up to nine scholarships in football, capping that number at 76. Men's basketball could lose a max of two of its 13 scholarships.

"The loss of two scholarships could crush you," Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said. "That's what the NCAA has given teams that have major violations."

NCAA legislation is seldom, if ever, this punitive. Members have only themselves to blame. Publishing grad rates didn't have the intended embarrassment consequence. Recruits didn't notice -- or didn't care -- that some football and basketball programs were nothing more than football and basketball factories.

Majoring in eligibility became a degree program in itself. It was only eight years ago that Texas Tech running back Byron Hanspard won the Doak Walker Award and played in a bowl game despite carrying a 0.00 grade-point average.

Now, programs will pay with their lifeblood -- talent.

"They're strong penalties, they're very clear," said Hartford president Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance. "They have serious consequences."

Yes, there will be a lot of hyper-extended elbows from NCAA types patting each other on the back. But, goodness, they had to do something, even if it was cosmetic.

Example: It's more than strange that NCAA presidents have approved legislation that forces coaches to adhere to their job descriptions.

"The presidents and ADs hire coaches," Self said. "Part of that job is to graduate young men if, in fact, that AD and president tell them that's their job. For the NCAA to have to legislate the presidents and ADs to get the coaches to do their jobs is a sad statement."

But that's what it has come to. Academic fraud long ago became the cheaters' new go-to violation. Paid-off tutors, shady summer school credits, grade-changing, phony SAT scores. As the NCAA's academic noose has gotten tighter, players (and sometimes coaches) have found ways to wriggle out.

This new legislation just might force the playahs among the student-athletes to take the courses of least resistance -- the IEM, aka incredibly easy major. You've seen them every Saturday below a kid's birth date, class and stats -- physical education, hotel management, parks and rec.

Some of those kids aren't from Ohio State, but that's another story.

"The NCAA has historically not entered the realm of which degree programs are tougher than others," said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president for membership services.

Nor should it, but there is another side to this landmark legislation. Beginning in the fall, the new NCAA guidelines will make it easier for prospects to become initially eligible but harder for them to stay eligible.

In the short term, you know what that could do to graduation rates.

"I think graduation rates will go down, rather than up," said DeLoss Dodds, Texas' athletic director. "I can't imagine they'll go up based on what I know."

In the long term, coaches are going to have to make some tough decisions. Do they take the five-star superstar jock or the four-star architecture major who projects as a college graduate?

That means Saturday's child is going to be little bit smarter, maybe a little bit less athletic. If everyone buys in, it beats double-secret probation.