Slive's suggestions constructive, but unlikely to be implemented
It's easy to be cynical about the Slive Doctrine. It's easy to dismiss the sweeping list of proposals SEC commissioner Mike Slive made Wednesday at his conference's media day as an attempt to turn the conversation away from the scandals that have plagued his league and toward a list of ideas that might never pass muster at the NCAA level. But outright dismissal would be foolish.
Regardless of Slive's motivation, he made some excellent points. He provided a few common sense ideas that, if passed by all the NCAA's member schools, might make college sports a little better.
Slive offered suggestions to simplify some of the labyrinthine rules that govern recruiting. He suggested schools, many of which now rake in millions a year from fat television contracts, pay full-cost-of-attendance scholarships. He suggested the NCAA's enforcement arm devise a continuum of offenses to replace the current system, in which offenders earn either a felony conviction or a parking ticket. Slive suggested rules that would curb oversigning while still allowing less advantaged students a chance to go to college. Slive suggested the NCAA require higher minimum academic standards for athletes.
Some suggestions will be greeted with chuckles from those who view the SEC as a win-at-all-costs cesspool of cheaters and oversigners. Some suggestions will be greeted with outright animosity from coaches within the league. Some suggestions are so sensible that -- because of their inherent sensibility -- they have zero chance of getting passed by the NCAA's Division I membership.
Slive's best idea involves streamlining the rules that govern recruiting. "It's time to push the reset button on the regulatory approach to recruiting," he said. He would dump the "bump" rule that forbids coaches from speaking to recruits during the spring evaluation period. This seems to make sense. Why allow college coaches to visit high schools if they can't speak to the players? Plus, everyone knows that if Nick Saban walks into a high school in Alabama, everyone -- from the captain of the football team to the president of the chess club -- will want to say hello. NCAA members should have jettisoned that rule long ago. How did they amend it instead? In 2008, they made it illegal for head coaches to visit schools during the spring evaluation period. A stupid rule can't be fixed by passing an even dumber rule, but more often than not, this is how schools address issues at the NCAA level.
Slive also suggested removing restrictions on electronic contact. For example, an e-mail to a recruit is OK, but a text message is not. Quick, look at your phone. What's the difference between a text and an e-mail? On my BlackBerry, the texts are one icon to the right of the e-mails. Under the current system, Georgia has to report a secondary violation when coach Mark Richt butt-dials a recruit. We live in a world in which Facebook has rendered every NCAA contact rule obsolete. We live in a world in which assistant coaches chat with recruits while playing XBox Live. (Sample Call of Duty chatter: "Kid, if you don't cover my six, consider your scholarship offer revoked.") Lifting those restrictions seems elementary. Anyone with a Smartphone and a Facebook account would agree.
But most of the Division I conferences would disagree. That's why an override vote last week struck down a proposal that would have loosened the rules on phone calls to recruits in sports other than football and men's basketball. So if Slive expects schools to exercise common sense with his proposal, he's probably mistaken.
Slive also advocated full-cost-of-attendance scholarships. Contrary to what most of the media coverage of this issue will tell you, this is not a salary for athletes. (The phrase "paying players" just makes for sexier headlines.) The scholarships represent a bump -- about $3,000 a year, on average -- to put the "full" back in "full ride." They will not stop agents from paying players, nor will they stop boosters from paying players. The black market always corrects for price ceilings. What they will do is alleviate some of the guilt school and conference officials almost certainly feel for signing ever-larger television deals without giving the workforce a raise. They might also cleave the pesky have-not conferences from the FBS. At the Big East meetings, commissioner John Marinatto let slip that the most recent talk of full cost-of-attendance scholarships started at a Group of Six meeting shortly before the Final Four. The Group of Six isn't some consortium of super villains. (Unless you're Boise State. Then it is.) It's the name the six BCS automatic-qualifying conferences use when they hold their low-profile, semiannual meetings. It's no accident that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany suddenly began banging the drum for these scholarships at the Big East meetings in May. The commissioners of the power conferences are well aware their recent and upcoming deals will allow their schools to pay more in scholarship money. If the five non-AQ conferences can't, that's not the problem of the Group of Six.
Slive also proposed making scholarships multiyear deals instead of one-year, renewable contracts. This would make it impossible to cut a player who had done nothing wrong simply because a coach made a recruiting mistake. This rule makes the oversigners howl, but they shouldn't fear. As long as there are random drug tests, there will be attrition. Slive also called the oversigners' bluff on another issue. Coaches who would prefer to sign 39 players for a 25-man class argue that allowing a poor student to sign a letter-of-intent and then placing him in a junior college allows a person who wouldn't have otherwise gone to college a chance at higher education. To counter this argument, Slive has proposed bringing back the partial qualifier. Want to sign a kid who couldn't spell "extra benefit" if you handed him the keys to his new Dodge Charger? Go for it. But he has to count against your 85-scholarship limit, even for the year he isn't allowed to play.
Slive also proposed raising the minimum core high school GPA to quality to 2.5 for an athletic scholarship. The interesting part of this proposal isn't the number -- grade inflation is easy -- but the potential requirement of a "satisfactory progress rule." In other words, an athlete with a transcript that looks like a Rorshach Test can't load up on night school and Internet courses in the months before graduation and still qualify for a college scholarship. Needless to say, the SEC probably won't institute this measure unless the other conferences join in. Otherwise, as
Slive also took aim at third-parties and street agents, which was appropriate on a day when ESPN investigative reporter Kelly Naqi wrote that
But cutting out the third parties will totally clean things up.
OK, so not every one of Slive's ideas was pure gold. And maybe the Slive Doctrine was a little bit of a "Hey, look over there" misdirection to keep the spotlight off the conference's warts. Still, one of the most powerful people in college sports threw out some constructive potential solutions for problems that have plagued the NCAA for a while.
Will the rest of the schools take them seriously? Hopefully, they will. History suggests they won't.