Much of the ambivalence and chest-beating that surround the NCAA could disappear with one little rule:
You pass, or you don't play.
You pass a sufficient load of legitimate courses, on time. You declare a degree and work toward it.
Once you fall short, the coach does not decide your eligibility.
The school does, through a Student Athlete Review Board that meets every month.
The NCAA would order every Division I or I-A school to institute an SARB, consisting mostly of teachers and department heads. They would determine which courses are meat and which are potatoes.
At one school, maybe Greek Literature is a welcome mat for the football players. At another, maybe Education 101 is something to chew on. The individual universities know; the SARB representatives would make it their business to know.
At each meeting, the SARB would consider the academic record of every scholarship athlete, from scratch. If that athlete has maintained at least a C average and is on schedule during the current semester, then, and only then, will he or she be deemed eligible. Past semesters don't count. History doesn't count.
Imagine the consequences.
-- No need to cut the basketball schedule by a piddling three games, or reduce spring football practice by a few hours. Coaches would have to allow study time to field an eligible team. But players who make B's anyway wouldn't be penalized.
-- No need for the NCAA to furtively scribble license-plate numbers or hunt down canceled checks. Who cares how much money a kid gets to sign? If he doesn't hit the books, he becomes a very expensive spectator. Grades, unlike illegal payments or car loans, are easily verifiable.
-- No need to waste time playing the charade of graduation rates. With the SARBs on the lookout, no one who isn't progressing toward a diploma will play.
-- No need to quibble over Proposition 48 or 42. Entrance requirements will rightfully be left to each school. They matter not, as long as the work is done.
What a wonderful world it would be, with everyone forced to think education first.
Do you think NBC, once it begins televising Notre Dame's home football schedule, would sort of like to know if the next Tony Rice will be permitted to play?
On the other hand, wouldn't you love to attend just one college game with the assurance that everyone in uniform knows where the classrooms are?
Reforming the NCAA has taken longer than changing Czechoslovakia, but it shouldn't. Since we're in the neighborhood, let's:
-- Refuse to let schools vote on issues that don't involve them. DePaul, St. Bonaventure and Seton Hall do not have football. However, they voted on spring-practice limitations at the recent Dallas convention. That's like allowing me to vote for prime minister of Canada.
-- Either dump the Division I-AA football playoff or devise one for Division I-A. They say a Division I-A playoff would burden the young men academically. Does that mean nobody cares if the Division I-AA kids don't go to class?
-- Forget this idea of spreading the NCAA basketball tournament wealth among all Division I schools. Most of them are in conferences and get a slice of the pie anyway.
-- Centralize officiating and take it out of the hands of the conferences. When Maryland comes to USC next week, for instance, the refs should not be Pac-10 or ACC refs, but NCAA refs. That eliminates all suspicion and also does away with the silly split-crew idea, in which officials work with strangers in the name of ``fairness.''
-- Pay Division I football and basketball players a stipend, as some NCAA folk are finally considering. But stop the payments when the SARB deems that player ineligible.
-- Offer CBS or NBC or any of the networks an extra $100,000 if they can televise an entire basketball game without showing or mentioning either one of the coaches. (It's beyond their capability.)
-- Do not parrot the popular line that would let basketball players transfer with no eligibility penalty if their coach takes another job. The scholarship was signed with the school, not the coach.
-- Do not penalize coaches for poor graduation rates unless the university presidents receive the same penalty.
-- Ban midweek basketball games that force the traveling team to miss class time. Concentrate more games into holiday periods. And never start a game later than 8 p.m. local time. USC athletic director Mike McGee wouldn't let the UCLA game at the Sports Arena start at 8:30, and, perhaps as a reward, the Trojans won. But the Big West regularly schedules Monday night games at 9 p.m., and Jim Delaney allowed the Ohio Valley Conference to play at 11:30 for ESPN. Delaney is now the Big Ten commissioner.
-- Make nonconference games the only criterion when the NCAA basketball tournament committee starts discussing strength of schedule. In other words, Georgetown would have to play a higher power than St. Leo to assure itself a favorable seed. UNLV, meanwhile, doesn't have a single appetizer on its non-Big West schedule, playing Louisville, LSU, NC State and Arizona instead, and should be rewarded for it.
But those are minor remedies compared to the one big pill - make the players pass to play.
You might ask why the NCAA doesn't pass that one single rule when its next convention comes to order. You must remember this: Nobody wants to attend a one-day convention.