NCAA President Mark Emmert says the new academic standards send 'a… (David J. Phillip / Associated…)
The NCAA board of directors promised a busy meeting this week in Indianapolis — and it delivered Thursday with a series of significant changes.
The board adopted a much-anticipated proposal that will allow universities to boost their athletic scholarships by as much as $2,000 to cover the full cost of attendance.
It also set higher classroom standards that could keep some prominent teams out of the postseason and force incoming freshmen to spend an "academic redshirt" year on the sideline.
"I believe we will look back on today as a historical occasion," said Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford. "We have put together what we think is a tough but fair approach."
Proponents of the scholarship increase see it as a way to help student-athletes, many of whom are asked to train year-round and cannot work to pay for miscellaneous expenses or even food once their season ends and they no longer get training table meals.
Each conference will be free to vote on whether to adopt the proposal. Critics argue that any increase in spending favors larger, wealthier conferences and exacerbates the so-called arms race.
"The NCAA, apparently, is not concerned about that," said Robert Kustra, president of Boise State.
Academic changes met with wider approval.
Under the new standard, teams will have to qualify for the postseason with a four-year average Academic Progress Rate score of 930 or better, which equates to graduating about half the players on a given roster.
That might not sound difficult, but it would have kept eight football teams and seven men's basketball teams at home last school year, officials said.
Michigan's football team, for example, played in the Gator Bowl with an APR score of 928. San Diego State's men's basketball team reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament with a 921.
Looking ahead, the change could hurt the Connecticut men's basketball team — the defending NCAA champion — who scored an 826 single-year APR for 2009-10, dropping its current average to 893. A university official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that the 2010-11 score will be approximately 975.
That would leave UConn unable to meet the two- and four-year minimums in time for the 2013 tournament.
The higher benchmark sends "a clear signal to the world about what we care about and what we stand for," NCAA President Mark Emmert said.
Implementation will start in 2012-13, when teams must achieve a 900 multiyear score or average 930 for the most recent two years. In 2014-15, teams must reach 930 or average 940 for the previous two years.
After that, the 930 mark is fully implemented, and NCAA officials warned that it will be waived only in extraordinary circumstances.
In addition, the new, tougher entrance requirements could force some incoming freshmen to spend their first year in college as an "academic redshirt," under scholarship and practicing with their teams but not allowed to compete.
The Knight Commission, a prominent college sports watchdog, commended the changes, calling the new APR mark "a clear statement about the importance of academic success."