Attention of presidents a good thing

"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." -- Winston Churchill

Mr. Churchill had more important matters than sport in mind when he uttered those famous words. And where he sought to simplify a complex World War we in college athletics find ourselves just trying to understand the monster we have created.

With the daily barrage of negative news we check to see if our alma mater is on Page One, curse under our breath whether it is or not and blame the NCAA, the media and today's youth. Then we proclaim to one and all that we will surely be happy when we can "go back to enjoying the game itself."

When was that? It is becoming clearer and clearer that most Americans have no sense of the evolution of our culture and its mirror image in intercollegiate athletics. I read and hear naive comments almost daily that come from two extremes and sound suspiciously like political debate.

Naivete No. 1: "They are all crooks. The coaches, players, and administrators have sold out to the rich boosters and agents (in politics these are special interests) and don't care a thing about education!"

Naivete No. 2: "Well, this sort of thing has always gone on, and every now and then there is going to be a problem or two. Just get rid of the NCAA (in politics, the United Nations) and it will work itself out in time."

Well, sports fans, both are bad news and as usual, the truth is somewhere in between.

The good news is that our college presidents, faculty representatives and boards of trustees are alarmed enough to actually do something about the crucial issues of ethics, student-athlete and fan behavior, recruiting and academic integrity.

The last time I recall such resolve from this group was in the mid 1980s when sweeping academic reform was passed, including Proposition 48.

As controversial as that legislation was, it nonetheless resulted in drastically improved graduation rates for student-athletes in ensuing years.

More recently, the NCAA has reorganized so that a Presidents' Council can get things done which would have been impossible in the days of open debate that required a majority of the entire body of NCAA institutions to approve any sort of academic or disciplinary code. That group has the power to instigate the end of these awful beginnings we are witnessing.

The job of college president is as demanding as there is in our culture and probably should not require intervention in athletic programs run amok. But as we have seen recently, such departments can and will cost those presidents their jobs. Not surprisingly, that gets their attention every time.

The fact that we have the presidents' attention is good news, as they will rise up very soon and get a grip on the ethics, recruiting and academic support systems of their athletic departments. We will likely see bowl and championship participation tied to graduation rates, more morals clauses in coaching contracts, more patience with good coaches whose players behave and graduate and more severe punishment for dishonest coaches, boosters and agents. All good news.

We may have miles to go before we rest, but we are coming to the start of something that will ultimately and genuinely be healthy for all concerned.

ESPN college football analyst Bill Curry coached for 17 years in the college ranks. His Game Plans for marquee matchups appear each week during the college football season.