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SEC Media Days 2011: Observations on Mike Slive's Reform Proposals

With SEC Media Days behind us, it's time to begin to digest some of what went down in Birmingham. For the national media, the biggest news was undoubtedly Mike Slive's latest reform proposals. Slive, who is quickly gaining a reputation for his reformist agenda, made a number of proposals, as here laid out by John Infante. It's worth a look just to see how wide and varied Slive's ideas are. Here are the most significant, eye-catching ones:

1. Multi-year scholarships. It's unclear whether what's being proposed here is making all scholarships four-year deals, or giving coaches the option of awarding various multi-year scholarship packages. If it were the former, this reform would drastically reduce problems with oversigning and running players off.
2. Raise minimum high-school GPA for eligible incoming freshmen from 2.0 to 2.5. This would have a huge impact on recruiting, as the vast majority of major programs are recruiting a large proportion of their players from the 2.0-2.5 range.
3. Expand academic progress reporting. Slive wants the NCAA to revise its recruiting regulations to allow programs to contact and work with student-athletes earlier in the recruiting process so they can help those student-athletes meet the new academic requirements. Currently, coaches can't directly contact recruits until the junior year; Slive would seek to allow contact beginning the freshman year, so recruiters can guide players through the requirements from the beginning.
4. Deregulation of communication with recruits. Slive wants to eliminate the numerous and oftentimes byzantine rules governing communication with recruits, such as bans on text messages and limits to the number of times a coach can contact an athlete.

Needless to say, this is not the incremental change that we saw in Destin a while back. These are fairly profound proposals that would revolutionize college athletics.

Many observations are in order here, and I'll look at the eligibility proposal for today. First of all, these are national proposals. It's not likely that Slive would push for the SEC to adopt these proposals if the other conferences weren't ready to follow suit. If adopted solely by the SEC, the eligibility reform would place a profound handicap on the conference's programs. Anecdotally, my understanding is that many of the SEC's programs are recruiting some 30% or so of their players from the marginal-GPA population. That's certainly true of Carolina, as Steve Spurrier has often lamented. Under the proposed regulations, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney wouldn't have qualified. That's not a prospect that Slive is going to hoist upon his conference's coaches unless he get the rest of the nation to go along with him.

The next worry I'm sure a lot of people have about this particular proposal is that it will make it more difficult for student-athletes with marginal GPAs to get into college and pursue an education they can use to change their lives for the better. I'm sympathetic to this argument, as I do believe that college athletics performs a social good by giving otherwise down-and-out students an opportunity to better themselves. Some will say that these academically marginal recruits never make good on that opportunity, but for every kid who just scrapes by to get in and then flunks out, there's an Eric Norwood who, despite marginal beginnings, dedicates himself to academics and turns his life around. Some will say that Slive is seeking to make it more difficult for these kinds of success stories to occur.

However, it should be emphasized that Slive is in fact trying to do the opposite. The proposal to raise the minimum GPA is accompanied by a proposal to make it easier for college coaches to contact students earlier in the recruiting process and monitor their academic progress. This should, therefore, not be considered an attempt to bar the academically marginal from a college education; rather, it should be considered an attempt to pinpoint the academically marginal early on and to help them escape marginality. Under the current system, it's very common for student-athletes--Clowney is a case in point--to do poorly in their first two years of high school, only to strive to bring their grades up dramatically over the last two years, after college recruiters are allowed to contact and press the recruit on her/his academics. If coaches are allowed to start that process earlier, a 2.5 minimum GPA may not end up being such a difficult hurdle to cross.

The question, of course, is whether colleges are ready to invest the time and money required to revolutionize the current infrastructure. That said, my impression is that, if faithfully carried into effect, this and the other reforms could have a very positive effect on college athletics.