Nearly a year after promising to impose harsher sanctions on the most egregious rule-breakers, NCAA leaders endorsed a proposal Thursday that would make schools subject to the same crippling penalties handed to Penn State.
The measure includes postseason bans of up to four years, fines that could stretch into the millions and suspensions for head coaches. A final vote on the sweeping overhaul won't occur before the board of directors' October meeting.
"Coaches come to me and say, 'I feel like a chump. I'm trying to do things the right way and I have peers who laugh at me because I don't play the game and bend the rules the way they do,'" board chairman Ed Ray said in a statement released by the Indianapolis-based NCAA. "That's got to stop … Most coaches are terrific people who love their student-athletes, try to do it the right way, try to have the right values and succeed. They're very frustrated. This has got to stop. I think most coaches are saying it's about time. We want a level playing field."
The plan calls for changing the current two-tiered penalty structure of major and secondary violations to a four-tiered concept, increasing the size of the infractions committee from 10 up to 24 in an effort to speed up the enforcement process and holding coaches individually accountable for any violations that occur in their program.
But it's the penalties that will make school leaders take notice.
A program found to have made a "serious breach of conduct" with aggravating circumstances could face postseason bans of two to four years. In addition, the program may have to return money from specific events or a series of events or the amount of gross revenue generated by the sport during the years in which sanctions occurred — fines that could cost a school millions of dollars.
If this sounds familiar, it should. After the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State, the NCAA barred the university from playing in a bowl game or the college football playoff until after the 2016 season and levied a $60 million fine — the rough equivalent to a year of gross revenue from the football program.
Coaches, too, would face new guidelines. They would be presumed responsible for any violations committed by their staffs. If they cannot prove they were unaware, the head coach could be suspended from 10 percent of the season to the full season.
Some think it's about time.
"I do think tying the infraction much more closely to the punishment in terms of time and who is involved is big and hammering things on fair play is important, too," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said. "Without knowing the specifics, I do think it's a positive."
The board also approved a provision that would publicly identify individuals responsible for the violations if there is a finding of lack of institutional control or failure to monitor.
The changes are the next step for university leaders nearly a year after they met with NCAA President Mark Emmert at a two-day retreat in Indianapolis. Afterward, presidents said they unanimously supported stronger sanctions and promised to make significant changes over the next 12 to 18 months.
Ray, the Oregon State president, and former Penn State President Graham Spanier were two of the leaders who spoke after the meeting. Also in attendance was University of Miami President Donna Shalala, whose football and basketball programs were accused of major violations just a few weeks later. The Miami investigation is ongoing.
With so many major scandals over the past 20 months, NCAA leaders not only wanted to put teeth in the sanctions — they want them in place before the end of this year.
"Our intention is to make this real in October," Ray said. "We want the membership to have a final review. We will listen to compelling arguments for additional changes, but this is the recommendation with all the feedback we've gathered since our first report in January and second detailed report in April."
Ray's committee also approved a measure that will allow BCS officials to expand the bowl limit so they can create a four-team playoff. That measure was expected to be a formality after the BCS voted to expand the playoff system.
And the board approved a new selection process for bowl games if conferences with bowl tie-ins do not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all the spots.
Under the new measure, if a bowl cannot be filled by the conference affiliations, the open spots would be filled through a six-tier tiebreaking process that will consider wins versus Football Championship Subdivision teams, teams with seven losses, teams making the move to the FBS that go 6-6 and any 5-7 team with a top-five score on the Academic Progress Rate.
Some think it will give teams more to play for.
Others aren't so sure.
"For me, personally, I'd be disappointed with that," Indiana center Will Matte said. "I think teams earn the right to go to bowl game, and I think that (getting in at 5-7) cheapens that a little bit."
The board also reiterated its support to provide athletes an annual stipend of up to $2,000 to cover the so-called full cost of attendance but did not vote on the measure. The stipend originally was approved last fall, but was halted in December because too many schools were opposed to it.
In other actions, the board:
—Chose Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch as chairman of the board and Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon chairwoman of the Executive Committee.
—Voted to support a change in constitutional language that would allow schools from outside the U.S. to join the NCAA. The move virtually assures that Simon Fraser University of Burnaby, British Columbia, will become the first non-U.S. member when the Division II Presidents Council votes next week.
—Heard a proposal to rewrite the massive rulebook manual. No vote will occur until at least January.