By MICHAEL MAROT, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — North Carolina's postseason football ban may be the start of the NCAA's new, get-tough approach to rule-breakers.
Just hours before the men's basketball tournament was scheduled to tip off in Dayton, Ohio, NCAA President Mark Emmert reiterated his point about vigorously punishing cheaters and noted the North Carolina punishment as an example of what could happen to schools that violate academics and benefits rules.
"The working group on the enforcement process surveyed the membership this last winter and one of the things the membership said was that the penalties that serve as the most serious deterrents were postseason bans, scholarship limits and fines," Emmert told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I think the committee on infractions saw that loud and clear, and I'm confident we'll see a move in that direction."
The Tar Heels received three years of probation and a one-year postseason ban Monday after an NCAA investigation found evidence of, among other things, academic misconduct.
Emmert has said repeatedly that the NCAA plans to focus on problems that jeopardize the integrity of college sports and the mission of the universities.
One solution is more postseason bans.
Until June 2010, the last Football Bowl Subdivision team to receive a postseason ban was Alabama in 2003. The Southern California case, which was handed down 21 months ago, ended the streak. Ohio State joined the list in December, and now North Carolina has made it, too.
More could be on the way.
A recent rash of scandals, involving some of the nation's most prominent football and basketball programs, has prompted the NCAA to rewrite its rulebook and revise the punishments.
No formal proposals have been made yet, but those under consideration include a multi-tiered penalty structure that includes the addition of aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
Emmert hopes the new measures will be approved in August.
"As we work on our rulebook and focus our attention on those issues, you can list the big issues on your fingers and one of those is academic fraud," Emmert said. "To have those kinds of issues come up, I know is very disturbing to the university and it's very disturbing to the committee on infractions, too."
Miami's football and basketball programs have been under investigation since last year when a booster claimed he provided extra benefits to players in both programs, including meals and entertainment at his homes.
Then there's Syracuse. It opened the season by firing associate head coach Bernie Fine after two former ball boys accused him of molesting them in the 1980s. Last week, school officials said the university had more than a year ago self-reported possible violations of its internal drug policy by former members of the team and that the NCAA was investigating. None of the current members of the team was involved.
On Tuesday, the school announced that star center Fab Melo will not play in the tournament because he of an eligibility issue. The Orange, the top seed in the East, did not elaborate.
The NCAA conducts random drug tests on school campuses for performance-enhancing drugs during the regular season, and tests for PEDs and street drugs during the tournament. The Syracuse case could make the NCAA reconsider that approach.
"It's not being discussed right now though a situation like this could lead to that," Emmert said.
Emmert also said a subcommittee continues to work on creating a formal proposal to bring back the $2,000 stipend for college athletes. The rule was passed in October, then suspended in December when more than 100 schools voiced opposition.
Emmert expects the new proposal to be debated in April and could be approved again in August.
"The important piece to the board and to the working group is the principle of providing support for student-athletes and schools being able to do that, and I think we'll wind up with something that follows those principles," he said.
Emmert's comments came hours before the first NCAA tourney game, Western Kentucky against Mississippi Valley State. Emmert, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron all were scheduled to attend the game.
The presence of the two international leaders Tuesday night, Emmert said, would lend more credibility to the concept of the "First Four," which debuted last season and was the start of Virginia Commonwealth's remarkable Final Four run.
Emmert played the role of consummate politician when asked who he thought would win the tournament.
"I just got an email from my daughter asking for help. I said 'I'm the last person you want help from.' My wife usually beats me," Emmert said with a laugh. "I think there's a whole bunch of teams that are serious contenders, and the four No. 1 seeds are great teams. I wouldn't have predicted VCU would go from the First Four to the Final Four last year, but that's the beauty of the tournament."
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