Balancing act

Sometimes big problems can be reduced to small abbreviations.

For instance, a big problem facing college football coaches these days is trying to find the prospect who is carrying a good GPA but also is capable of carrying your program to a BCS bowl.

Most teams with the high GPAs do not make their way into BCS bowls. That's why talk of making college football players meet a minimum 2.5 grade-point average is not getting a warm reception from NCAA coaches. Tennessee's Derek Dooley, for one, thinks the Academic Progress Rate (APR) already ensures academic integrity.

"I could talk for a long time on that," he said recently. "They (NCAA leaders) set these benchmarks of APR because they wanted to improve how we do things. We met those benchmarks, and now they're upset because we're the lowest of all the sports. My question was: At what point is the lowest good enough? The lowest guy in the medical class still becomes a doctor."

Schools with lofty academic standards - Vanderbilt, Tulane, Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, Notre Dame for instance - rarely qualify for BCS bowl bids these days. Most exceptional players are not exceptional students.

"I don't think we can say there's no competitive change if we raise the standards," Dooley said. "Otherwise, all of these other schools wouldn't be wanting to raise the standards. I do think it's going to affect the competitive level at some point."

Although he's fine with schools who voluntarily adhere to higher standards, Dooley believes holding everyone to those standards is a mistake.

"The uniqueness about college football is that there's 120 different institutions, and we've outlined some good baseline standards that have been healthy for the game," the Vol coach said. "But it's everybody else's prerogative if they want to increase their own standards.

"You don't have to follow what the NCAA says. You can have greater standards - higher academic standards if you want - and I think that should be left to the institution."

Dooley also is skeptical of a proposal that would replace the renewable one-year scholarship with the multi-year scholarship. This would prevent coaches from running off unproductive veteran players in order to make more roster room for incoming recruits.

"A scholarship is a contract," Dooley said. "It's a contract between two parties. Both parties have obligations to do things to continue the contract.

"I hear about how it's so awful when a player gets a scholarship taken away. I'm sitting there going, 'Universities give academic scholarships all the time, and if a student doesn't meet certain academic requirements, they take it away from them.'

"It's no different to me in athletics. We have a commitment to them, and they have a commitment to us. So we're giving them a benefit, and they're giving us a benefit. That's why it's a contract."

Although some coaches violate the spirit of the contract by forcing marginal players to leave, Tennessee's head man believes karma will catch up with these coaches.

"I think the market takes place when a team is abusing that situation," Dooley said. "If a coach is just taking away scholarships, kicking people off the team, the market is going to take care of it in recruiting. Who is going to want to go play for the guy? Allow the market to act."

Simply put, Dooley believes issues of roster management and academic integrity will resolve themselves without further NCAA legislation.

"It goes back to what you believe philosophically," he said. "Are we going to allow the institutions and programs to set their rules, then allow the market to handle which way they go and the success they have, or are we going to take over and define what everybody does all the time?

"I think it's absurd to have across-the-board disciplinary measures when you're talking about dealing with young people."

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