Most Commodore fans I know are supportive of any measure intended to bring about academic reform for student-athletes, and on the surface, the 5/8 rule appeared to do that. From a distance, the rule's repeal appears to be a blow to the academic reform movement.
Not so fast, I say.
The directive's original intent was to discourage coaches from the regrettable practice of "running off" players who turned out to be recruiting mistakes, in favor of new recruits who could be "instant fixes." It also was hoped that the rule would force coaches to attract players with a higher caliber of academic potential.
But though well-intentioned, the rule was flawed, and in retrospect probably doomed from the outset. From almost day one, coaches raised an outcry about it. Arizona's Lute Olson called it "disastrous." Even Vandy's Kevin Stallings once referred to the rule as "helmet-headed" (i.e., instituted by administrators with a football mindset).
The rule's detractors had some valid points. Sure, it's natural for coaches to be wary of any rule that restricts their ability to recruit. But the 5/8 rule was devastating news for coaches trying to rebuild programs from the ground up. It prevented teams from using their full allotment of 13 scholarships after players left early for the NBA, transferred-- or even died.
Ten days ago the NCAA Division I Management Council voted to rescind the controversial rule, and the board of directors approved the rescinsion Thursday. The effect is immediate, and it now allows programs like Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina and Arkansas to offer more scholarships for next fall's signing class.
Lots of savvy coaches around the country have already been recruiting this spring with the idea the rule would be done away with. Georgia's Dennis Felton, for example, signed four players last year and has four players signed and committed for next fall's class, a total of eight over two years. Under the now-defunct 5/8 rule, he could sign no more for next fall; without the restrictions, he'll be able to add up to five more signees. Such a deal!
Despite Stallings' misgivings, the 5/8 rule has mostly worked in Vanderbilt's favor, as it's a rule that rewards programs that attempt to do things by the book. Through relentless recruiting, Kevin Stallings has built the basketball program to the point where Vanderbilt should not be adversely affected by the rule for many years.
But what's to keep renegade coaches now from abusing the system? The even better news is that the 5/8 rule was replaced Thursday by a landmark "Incentives/Disincentives" proposal designed to penalize schools whose student-athletes fail to perform academically.
Sound familiar? It should.
The proposal is largely the work of former Vanderbilt Director of Athletics Todd Turner and his subcommittee on academic reform. Turner had worked diligently, both before and after his reassignment and resignation from Vandy last fall, to craft a proposal that even the most skeptical of administrators can recognize as progress. It sailed through the NCAA's overseeing board Thursday.
Under the proposal, the NCAA will examine graduation rates and the progress of student-athletes toward a degree. Schools that fail to measure up will be subject to loss of scholarships, post-season bans, and even (gasp) loss of revenue. The cutoffs have yet to be determined, but the package is intended to increase graduation rates and add accountability for both schools and coaches.
"I've listened to a lot of coaches over the years complain about how they've been painted with an incorrect brush because the graduation rates don't fairly reflect what you're actually doing within your institution," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said last week. "The NCAA staff really has understood that and is working very hard to develop a fair means of evaluating graduation rates. Once they do that, I think the incentives-disincentives will be fine."
The new package, which goes into effect in 2006, appears to be a logical, practical first step in curbing some of the abuses that have plagued college athletics. Todd Turner deserves a heap of credit for building consensus on this-- and so does NCAA President Myles Brand, who has made academic reform his top priority.
Click here to read the news release from the NCAA regarding the landmark academic reform measures passed Thursday.
Contact Brent at brent(at)vandymania.com