Bill Friday scores NCAA victory on grades and games

NCAA links grades, games

Staff WriterAugust 15, 2011 

Last week, some ideas championed for years by former UNC System President William Friday were implemented by the NCAA.

As college sports increasingly became a big business driven by TV and coaches' salaries escalated, Friday often warned of a dangerous shift away from the academic mission of the universities.

The events of last week left Friday hopeful that the pendulum is swinging back toward academics. On Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 50 university presidents met with NCAA President Mark Emmert in a historic gathering to discuss the future of college athletics.

On Thursday, the Division I Board of Directors announced the approval of a rule that the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics - of which Friday was a founding member - proposed 10 years ago.

The rule bans teams with four-year NCAA Academic Progress Rate marks below 930 from postseason play. In essence, that means 50 percent of the players in a program have to be on track to graduate in order for a team to play in a bowl or an NCAA tournament.

Friday, the 91-year-old champion of reform, was pleased.

"This is a pivotal point," he said. "If you really mean these people are student-athletes, then you have to emphasize that particular point. This is the first major turning in the road."

In 2001, Friday said, the Knight Commission outlined three major objectives.

The first goal was to get university presidents more involved in overseeing the athletics endeavors that were taking place on their campuses.

Friday said the meeting with Emmert was an important step toward that goal.

North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp, who attended the meeting, said the presidents were serious about the steps Emmert is taking to fix college athletics.

"You saw the list of presidents that were there," Thorp said. "There are people who are involved in college athletics in a big way, and they were supportive of how this is going."

The Knight Commission's second goal 10 years ago was to safeguard academic integrity in college athletics. Friday said tying the postseason to an academic benchmark was important for that.

A third objective, establishing financial integrity in college athletics programs, still needs to be addressed, Friday said.

But the new academic rule has teeth.

Ten teams that participated in the 2011 NCAA tournament, including NCAA champion Connecticut, would have been ineligible under the new rule, according to USA Today.

Eight of the 70 bowl teams from last season, including N.C. State, would have been held out of postseason play because of APR marks below 930, according to a Birmingham News report.

After years of lobbying for it, Friday was glad to see the NCAA getting serious about classroom performance.

"It's an important step," he said. "It's not the only step that's left, but it's the first one. It's a clear pronunciation that academics is a consideration."

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