Report on college sports calls for fine tuning, not major overhaul

Ask a football coach for a post-game assessment and he often qualifies his remarks with, ''I'll have to see the films.'' Americans, of course, are enamored of the long, second look, achieved through specially commissioned studies, reports, and investigations. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the major governing body of college athletics has indulged in a study of its own.

Specifically, the National Collegiate Athletic Association enlisted ''a group of esteemed individuals'' to examine the problems and concerns confronting college athletics and propose some possible solutions.

The Select Committee, as this august body is called, began its mission 16 months ago. The findings have just been published.

They aren't exactly startling. Much of the information is common knowledge within college athletic circles, where academic and recruiting abuses are well known and governance and financial questions of mutual concern.

The report, compiled largely by administrators and coaches at so-called big-time sports schools, is understandably sympathetic to the challenges faced by upper-stratum athletic programs. It accepts the fact that football and basketball teams need to generate revenue and are effective public relations vehicles.

Consequently this is no radical tome advocating a complete overhaul. Instead , it is a restrained voice calling for fine tuning in some areas and greater vigilance in others. For this very reason, schools making up the NCAA's diverse membership might be expected to heed such suggestions and recommendations as:

* Make freshmen ineligible for varsity football and basketball in Division I, the top competitive level. ''Freshman participation,'' the report concludes, ''constitutes an unnecessary hurdle and, at worst, a great hindrance to academic success.''

* Close the loopholes involved in the eligibility of junior college transfers , by requiring that accumulated credit hours be applicable toward a degree at a four-year institution.

* Further limit contact with high school students for recruitment purposes, thereby nurturing a ''more humane'' environment. A ''quiet period'' cutting off contact altogether should precede the date on which athletes sign letters of intent.

* Allow big-time institutions more control over their own policies and practices. In other words, don't force the Fortune 500 to live by five-and-dime guidelines. Given this objective, the committee recommends summer legislative meetings for Division I-A members to air their views on major college football, exclusive of Division I-AA, II, and III input.

The report also raises some red flags. Among these are the high incidence of recruiting infractions that involve automobiles, and the tendency for many coaches to earn more income from outside sources (TV shows, endorsements, etc.) than from the university employing them.

In the first case, the report suggests that student-athletes be required to advise their schools each year about the ownership and use of cars. This might discourage overzealous boosters.

Because of potential dangers (''skewed loyalties and priorities'') that arise when coaches become mini corporations, universities are encouraged to exercise control in the area of outside income.

The 16-member Special Committee acknowledges progressive steps the NCAA, with its 278 Division I members, has taken or is taking. These include:

* The decision to rewrite the 345-page NCAA Manual, an unwieldy document that has been cluttered with too much legalese. A more concise, better organized manual would help members conform to NCAA rules and regulations.

* Efforts to upgrade academic standards by (1) requiring standardized test scores in determining initial college eligibility, and (2) establishing guidelines to ensure that student-athletes show satisfactory progress toward a degree.

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