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Leaders Imagine Leaner, Meaner NCAA Rule Book

Clemson, S.C.—When James F. Barker called his first meeting as head of an NCAA committee charged with revamping the association’s vast rule book, he asked the group’s members to list their core ideas on a single page.

After eight months of trying to whittle down the rules, he has come to several realizations: You can’t take a 500-page book down to one sheet. But he believes his group can realistically cut the rule book by half, if not more, he said here Tuesday night during a panel discussion with two other campus leaders.

Speaking at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of Clemson University’s Rutland Institute for Ethics, the Clemson president made it clear that the scandals tarnishing the reputation of college sports call for tougher standards.

“We need to regulate less and punish more,” Barker said.

And whatever size the rule book eventually becomes, the burden of enforcing appropriate behavior in college sports will fall on institutions like never before, he said.

“Clearly the responsibility is shifting to campuses, and that’s a major cultural change,” he said. “Campuses are not prepared to do that, so it won’t be an easy transition. But if it doesn’t happen, the bureaucracy of the NCAA will become almost unmanageable.”

Barker was joined by Charlie Nelms, chancellor of North Carolina Central University, and Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska, who are also members of the rules group.

The group, which was initially supposed to complete its work by August, now may not present its ideas to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors until next year. Its members are still wrestling with the core principles they want to emphasize before tackling specific bylaw changes.

The biggest challenge the group faces—and the one that will determine its success or failure—is figuring out how to balance competitive equity between wealthy and not-so wealthy programs, Perlman said.

“The most difficult principle is determining whether the NCAA has an interest in making the playing field even between programs that have natural advantages over others,” he said.

Turning to Nelms, Perlman said: “Does the NCAA want to prevent me from using my $75-million budget as an advantage over his $6-million budget?”

Nebraska’s athletics department will spend its $75-million a year no matter how much the NCAA regulates, Perlman said. The question is how many trivial rules the association needs, he said, singling out the one preventing programs from offering recruits cream cheese on their bagels.

“If I can’t have cream cheese on the bagels so that student-athletes can have protein,” Perlman said, “we’re gonna build the biggest practice facility you’ve ever seen—and it’s gonna have lights and iPads in the showers and stuff like that.”

Until the NCAA regulates the total money programs can spend, he added, the little stuff—like cream cheese on bagels—doesn’t really matter.

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