INDIANAPOLIS The NCAA approved a sweeping package of academic reforms Thursday that will penalize schools starting in 2006 if athletes perform too poorly in the classroom.
''This is the beginning of a sea change in college sports,'' NCAA president Myles Brand said. ''Landmark legislation was passed to ensure each and every student-athlete has a genuine opportunity to receive a high quality education and graduate.''
To avoid punishment, schools will have to stay above a still-undetermined ''cut line'' that includes graduation rates as one of the factors showing academic progress.
Brand said graduation targets for each school are being calculated. This fall, he said, each school will be notified ''how much at risk it would have been'' had the new standards already been in place.
The Division I Management Council originally proposed waiting an extra year before putting the reforms in place, but the NCAA Board of Directors decided to push it up to 2006 because it felt data wouldn't change much by waiting.
The board previously voted to increase the number of core courses needed for freshman eligibility and to increase the number of hours required toward graduation to remain eligible.
Another piece of the package, approved last fall, required athletes to complete 20 percent of their degree requirements each year to remain eligible. The latest measure was designed to make the colleges themselves more accountable for keeping athletes on track to graduate.
''We're starting immediately to make these reforms real,'' said Robert Hemenway, chancellor of the University of Kansas and chairman of the Division I board.
The ''cut line'' will be the same in all sports.
''There are going to be many different factors,'' NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard said. ''That is to be determined. They'll take into account all the different things they choose to bring in.''
Schools that fall below that line will receive warning letters beginning in 2006-07. Consistently poor performing teams could begin losing scholarships in 2007-08 and postseason eligibility and money from NCAA tournaments starting in 2008-09.
Also, if a scholarship athlete leaves school while not academically eligible, that scholarship may not be replaced for one year under a ''contemporaneous'' penalty that goes into effect this fall.
''This is a critically important set of legislative measures, the strongest ever passed by the NCAA, and different in kind because it holds teams as well as institutions accountable,'' Brand said.
The board also rescinded the so-called ''5-8'' rule, which allowed a school to award five basketball scholarships in one year or eight scholarships in a two-year period.
''With so much progress having been made, combined with the pieces already in place, the 5-8 rule probably was unnecessary,'' Hemenway said.
He said the reforms, with penalties to back up the tougher standards, send a message to athletes ''that if you come to our institutions, we're going to do everything in our power to make sure you graduate.
''I think what we did today will result in enhanced standards, in improved measurements of how successfully those standards are being met, and a significant increase in accountability on the part of the institutions, athletic departments, individual teams and individual student-athletes,'' Hemenway said.
The board also discussed, but took no action, on recommendations by a task force on recruiting.
Brand formed the committee in February following allegations by two women who said Colorado football players or recruits raped them at a party in 2001. A third woman said she was assaulted in a dorm room shortly afterward, and since 1997, at least eight women have accused Colorado football players of rape.
The recommendations will be considered in July and are expected to be sent to the Board of Directors in time to enact new rules before the 2004-05 recruiting season.
''The board looked at it briefly. ... There was some interest in strengthening that package,'' said David Berst, NCAA vice president for Division I.
The task force recommendations include a requirement that each NCAA school adopt a written policy on recruiting and accountability for compliance. They also include a requirement that hosts for athletes either be members of the teams for which the prospects are being recruited or others chosen the same way the college provides hosts to prospective students in general.
The group also urged requiring recruits and hosts to sign a form agreeing not to engage in inappropriate conduct as defined by the college.
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