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College presidents poised to rework athletics rules

If the presidents of NCAA schools have their way, the next eight months will represent a "sea change" in collegiate athletics, and it might start on the buffet line.

University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides participated this week in an NCAA summit with approximately 50 other NCAA school presidents to discuss the future of their sports.

"The overarching message coming out of this is that Division I collegiate athletics is under a lot of pressure mainly because of the commercial success and therefore the commercial interest in it," Pastides said Friday. "We absolutely don't want that. Every single decision that is made will be to reinforce the principles of amateurism and the fact that these are student-athletes and not professional athletes."

Get rid of nit-picky rules

The starting point could be a vast reworking of the enormous NCAA rulebook to de-emphasize nit-picking and thereby allow compliance and enforcement staffs more time to tackle bigger issues. A perfect example is what NCAA President Mark Emmert called "the bagel rule" during the presidents' discussion, Pastides said.

According to NCAA bylaws, schools who are hosting high school recruits "are allowed to give them a bagel but you are not allowed to give them cream cheese or peanut butter to put on it," Pastides said.

Pastides added that USC recently had to report a secondary violation to the NCAA because one of its teams put peanut butter on a serving line during a recruiting function.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of rules, but a lot of them are minor, minor issues," Pastides said. "We want the compliance model to be streamlined, to really differentiate between the major issues and the minor issues."

Overhauling the rule book as a way to increase integrity in college athletics was one of three main topics discussed by the presidents.

The other two were financial sustainability and academic success.

Academic accountability

On the financial front, the presidents supported the idea of increasing the value of scholarships up to the level of the full cost of attendance, which generally is $2,000 to $3,000 more per year than what is covered now.

"I don't know what the amount will be," Pastides said. "I don't think it will be a huge amount, but it will look at the fact that along with the escalation of rewards to coaches and other aspects of athletics that the students ... should be sharing some of these benefits."

The major news to come out of the presidents' academic discussions is the possibility that the minimum Academic Progress Rate requirement be raised from 925 to 930, and that schools that fall below the 930 mark be banned from postseason play, such as bowl games or the NCAA basketball tournament.

NCAA APR scores are based on graduation rates and athletes remaining academically eligible.

The Gamecocks' current APR rankings in football and men's basketball would not subject them to a postseason ban. Under the new system, this year's NCAA men's basketball champion, Connecticut, would not have been eligible.

"The next time an athletically proficient program wins all its games and still is not eligible to compete for a national championship, they will understand the presidents mean business," Pastides said.

None of the issues the presidents discussed have become legislation yet, but that might not be far. The Division I board of directors, on which Pastides serves, will meet in October and April and could ratify many of the changes then, he said.

In other news

Pastides declined to discuss the possibility of Texas A&M joining the SEC. According to multiple reports, the conference and the Aggies are discussing that possibility as early as the 2012 season.

Pastides supports the punishment for assistant football coach G.A. Mangus, he said. Mangus, who was arrested last month and charged with nuisance conduct after two Greenville police officers said they saw him urinating on a downtown street, was suspended for one week and fined one month's pay, approximately $14,000.

"I was greatly disappointed in his behavior, but I do think that the punishment that was negotiated with him by our athletics director is quite steep and sends a message not only to him but really throughout all the coaching staffs," Pastides said.