Tom Yeager has spent the last 12,000-plus days administering college sports. Few, if any, were as encouraging, refreshing and downright revolutionary as Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Colonial Athletic Association's commissioner since its 1985 inception, Yeager was among approximately 50 officials invited to Indianapolis for a two-day reform summit called by NCAA president Mark Emmert. In less than two days, the group agreed to implement radical reforms that encompass every facet of Division I sports.
"It was very empowering. … You had a bunch of leaders saying, 'This is how it's going to be. Get on board or get out of the way.'"
The leaders were, predominantly, chancellors and presidents. And their three primary edicts are reasonable and fair.
First, NCAA enforcement will be streamlined and strengthened to focus on felons instead of jaywalkers. Moreover, sanctions will be harsher.
Second, in a page right out of Patrick Henry's playbook, the NCAA will resist national policy and cede to individual conferences and schools the right to add a cost-of-attendance stipend to the value of a full scholarship.
Third, and perhaps most jarring to fans, teams that fail to meet academic progress minimums will be banned from NCAA championships and football bowls.
"It's not going to get shuffled off to any number of NCAA committees that take a year-and-a-half to study it," Yeager said of the presidents' agenda. "It's coming."
Indeed, less than 24 hours after the summit adjourned, the Division I Board of Directors approved the academic component. Within 3-5 years, teams that do not attain a four-year, rolling average Academic Performance Rate of 930 — the approximate equivalent of a 50-percent graduation rate — will be excluded from that season's NCAA championship or football bowls.
Yeager believes commissioners will go further and bar those teams from their respective conference tournaments or football title games.
How drastic might that be? Well, given the most recent APR numbers, 10 of the 68 teams that made last season's men's basketball tournament would have been ineligible: Southern California, Syracuse, Florida State, Cal-Santa Barbara, UAB, St. Peter's, Morehead State, Texas-San Antonio, Alabama State and, drumroll please, eventual national champion Connecticut.
Last season's seven bowl ineligibles would have been Michigan, BYU, Maryland, North Carolina State, Louisville, Tulsa and Southern Mississippi.
NCAA researchers on hand told the presidents this measure would affect a significant number of teams. But according to Yeager, "They said, 'So be it. We're serious about this.'"
Although most, if not all, members of his conference can't afford to give full scholarship athletes an annual cost-of-attendance stipend ranging from $2,000-$4,000, Yeager is OK with schools and leagues deciding whom to offer such a benefit.
Might locker rooms divide between those receiving the stipend — in theory to cover transportation and other incidentals — and those not? Perhaps, Yeager conceded, but non-revenue sports such as baseball and lacrosse navigate similar issues among athletes whose scholarships range from a full ride to a third or quarter.
"The option is going to be there," Yeager said. "It's going to be permissive. It was very much, 'We're not trying to mandate (cost-of-attendance stipends).' Unfortunately, permissive becomes required in a lot of cases, so we'll have to wait and see how that all plays out."
My old-fashioned sensibilities still say tuition, room and board are enough, but if schools can pay the freight, and if other grants on campus include the stipend, have at it.
Given his past lives as an NCAA investigator and chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions — "I was paroled five years ago," Yeager joked about his 2006 exit from the panel — Yeager is especially interested in the presidents' desire to target and sanction the most egregious cheaters.