March 03, 2015

A group of 20 university presidents and college athletics administrators is crafting a proposal to better define when the NCAA should investigate cases of academic cheating by student athletes.

Ohio University President Rod McDavis, the chairman of the NCAA's Committee of Academics, says the group plans to have a proposal ready by the end of June.

NCAA head of enforcement Jon Duncan said in January academic misconduct is on the rise and his department was handling 20 open academic-misconduct investigations.

McDavis said in a recent interview with The Associated Press the committee has already agreed that any time a coach or paid member of the school's athletic staff is involved in an academic misconduct case the NCAA should be involved.

The committee's greatest challenge is balancing institutional autonomy with the need for NCAA involvement and determining who should punish cheaters, McDavis said.

The academic misconduct case at North Carolina was a prime example of the delicate balancing act. After a joint review with the school, the NCAA stayed out of UNC's affairs when it was first determined that a large number of athletes took no-show classes. But the scandal grew and the NCAA later reopened its investigation into academic misconduct last summer because it said new information was available. An independent investigation later revealed details of the scandal, including athletics counselors steering players to the classes where they received artificially high grades.

McDavis described schools as the first line of defense against academic misconduct. He said the committee has also agreed universities and colleges are responsible ''to have and adhere to written academic misconduct policy.''

The committee can expect some pushback from campus leaders who believe academic matters fall strictly under institutional control.

''On the surface it seems like it should change, however, what we all hear from campuses is that the courses offered, curriculum, majors, rigor, etc. are an institutional or campus department matter,'' said Kim Durand, associate athletic director for student development at the University of Washington. ''Institutional autonomy should reign.''

Durand said one of the committee's goals is to close what she called the gap between guidelines and enforcement. Currently, an NCAA violation related to academic misconduct only occurs if the act results in a competitive advantage.

''If you have a case where an egregious act has happened, but (if) the student-athlete is being redshirted or blows out his or her knee and doesn't compete for you that year or doesn't need those credits to make themselves eligible, then there is not an NCAA violation,'' said Durand, who is the president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.

The other goal for the committee is to consolidate the bylaws on academic misconduct that are now sprinkled throughout the NCAA manual.

''If I'm looking for guidance from the NCAA manual on what steps I need to take and where this falls under, I may have to look at three, maybe four different places in the manual,'' Durand said. ''So that's confusing.''

A vote on the measure by members from every Division I conference plus conference commissioners, faculty members and students, could happen as soon as April 2016.

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