SEC Media Days: Grading Mike Slive's Proposals

As Glenn reported yesterday, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive proposed a plethora of changes to the existing academic business model SEC schools currently live (or die) by.  His proposed amendments touched on several aspects of collegiate athletics, including: scholarships, scholarship money, incoming freshmen GPA's, partial-qualifiers, and the fact that he and the SEC support the NCAA's attempt to upgrade enforcement (snicker, snicker, he can say that now that Lane Kiffin and Bruce Pearl are no longer employed by an SEC institution).   

After reading the many changes Slive has in store for the SEC (and yes folks, he has the conference presidents' full attention, and they're the guys and gals who vote on such reforms), I have no choice but to applaud his efforts to, in my view, improve the landscape of college athletics in the Southeastern Conference (in hopes of catching the almighty Big 10, of course).

After the jump, I give my thoughts on the more interesting Slive proposals.

Such as:

1) Changing scholarships from a year-to-year renewable scholarship to a 4-year scholarship: Initial thoughts -- Anything that commits any university to a player is a good thing, in my book. 

This potential rule change would affect football more than basketball, but as UK fans witnessed when John Calipari was hired, whenever a new coach (in any sport), is hired, there is always a danger that a scholarship athlete will be urged out the door.  In football, it's more a case of a player being "recruited over."  In other words, a coach recruits what he thinks will be a better player than the one he already has on his roster, and then ushers the allegedly less-talented scholarship athlete out the door and down the street. 

Now, if a player is told by the head coach that he will probably not see playing time, that player is likely to want to look elsewhere, but a player should never be forced out (absent bad behavior, bad grades, etc, ala Rashaad Carruth & Jason Parker), should never be made to feel unwanted -- And therein lies the loophole in Mr. Slive's well-intended proposal: A coach can make life miserable for the unwanted soul, basically forcing the player to transfer or quit altogether.  It happens, and it happens more than one might think.

The bottom line regarding this Slive idea: When a coach offers a scholarship, it's only fair to the athlete if that scholarship is a binding, four-year agreement (with comportment and academic clauses).  This, in my mind, levels the playing field a bit between athletes and coaches (who move around like pieces on a hyper-active chess board) -- With this amendment, the fringe player doesn't have to worry about having the scholarship rug pulled out from under him at the whim of the coach, or with each coaching change.  

Grade: A

2) Raising the incoming freshman core class -- of which there are 16 -- minimum GPA requirement from 2.0 to 2.5, and, 3) allowing coaches to more closely monitor the academic progress of each recruit, and, 4) require each high school student-athlete to make satisfactory educational progress in each of his four years of high school: Initial thoughts -- All good ideas.

What Slive is saying with these "adjustments" is the same thing my parents (and I'm sure many other parents) said over and over to me in my youth, "Try harder!"  Re-focusing the athlete on academics ... now there's a thought.  But it's a thought that probably will have little impact at the major college level.  For since the beginning of time, many (no, not all, but many) elite level athletes have been coddled and pampered to the point of ruination by those charged with educating them (and in some cases, with raising them), and placing a higher GPA requirement on said athletes is most likely not going to inspire any more blood, sweat, and tears out of the player in the classroom.  The player will continue to do mediocre work and be awarded eligibility-saving grades.  I do, though, applaud Slive's effort.

(Clearly, there are many players who take their academic life seriously.  We've seen more than our fair share of earnest student-athletes over the last several decades at Kentucky.  Those types of players, though, should not be affected in a grievous way by these possible Slive-inspired by-laws). 

Grade: An empty A

By increasing the educational standard for incoming SEC athletes, Slive is not throwing out the baby with the bathwater by forcing kids to go to prep schools (many of which offer little, if any serious academic obstacles), or to junior college.  Instead, he proposes to ...

6) Re-institute the partial qualifier rule: Initial thoughts -- Anything that gets the kid on campus, where he can get the help he needs, is a good thing.

Beginning in 1986, the NCAA initiated Prop 48, which is a by-law that placed strict academic requirements on all incoming collegiate athletes, that, if not met, resulted in the athlete having only limited practice time and no game time; the affected player was on scholarship, but not eligible for competition in his freshman year.  If the student-athlete made satisfactory academic progress during his first four years of college, he would be granted a fourth year of eligibility to make up for the forfeited freshman season. 

The SEC played under Prop 48 guidelines for a couple of decades, but haven't for several years now; Mike Slive is basically proposing to re-institute (a portion of) the rule.  As I said above, if the rule gets the player on campus, especially at UK, which has one of the nations best academic advisory mechanisms in the nation (the Ohio Casualty Center for Academic & Tutorial Serves, or CATS), then I'm all for it.

Additionally, the fact that UK has such a renowned academic support staff enables the coaches to quickly realize which struggling players aren't taking their school work seriously, because every player is afforded "state of the art" assistance, and if he's failing to perform, effort just might be the missing link.  

Grade: A 

I must admit, after reading Slive's ideas, he had me, I was on board, until this, almost gratuitous amendment proposal ...

7) Support the NCAA's effort to upgrade enforcement: Initial thoughts -- He must be kidding.  Not that I'm against enforcement of NCAA rules, I most certainly favor throwing the book at dishonest coaches and players (and don't forget the parents), but before Slive offers support to an organization, he should first be certain that organization is worth supporting. 

Allow me to expound.  Any organization which employs Dennis Thomas in a position of responsibility does not deserve the support of the SEC.  Period.  Thomas, CHAIRMAN (I still can't believe it) of the NCAA's most powerful branch, the Committee on Infractions (as well as commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), has proved to be, a) a man guilty of very questionable decision-making, b) petty in nature, c) less than thorough in his job performance -- in fact, my 8-year old cleans her room more thoroughly than Thomas does his job -- and d) quite possibly a "slow coach."  Thomas' laughable, ridiculous order that UK vacate John Calipari's 500th win "extravaganza," and erase all mention of Cal's achievement from all official UK forms, web-sites, and publications (along with the ensuing email exchange with UK), reeked of arbitrary bullying of one of the big boys and their coach.  Or is it personal with Thomas?  Whichever the case, with so many universities "guilty" of the exact same D Misdemeanor (many of which reside in Thomas' own MEAC), Thomas was made to look quite the fool, and in my mind, embarrassingly unemployable at a such a high level occupation.   

So, Mr. Slive, before we grant support to the NCAA, let's make sure Mark Emmert and his staff are competent.  Unfortunately, the jury is still out, but Mr. Thomas' term ends in less than two years, so perhaps Slive should wait and re-evaluate his support of the NCAA's enforcement efforts after Thomas leaves the building.

Grade: D-

That's a 3.5 GPA Mr. Slive.  You are now eligible for Division I collegiate competition (unless we come back later and say you aren't).

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

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