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NCAA approves tougher sanctions for rule-breakers
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INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA is demanding everyone in college sports play by the same book.

Those who deviate from it and flaunt the rules will soon be paying a steeper price.

On Tuesday, the NCAA's board of directors passed a package of sweeping changes that will hold coaches more accountable for rule-breaking offenses and threaten rogue programs with longer postseason bans and fines that could cost millions of dollars.

Coaches say it's about time.

"Throughout history, the only way to keep civilization and to keep things in order is to have very strong rules and enforce them," said Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida. "There's no other way. Clear rules with very firm and swift — it has to be a little bit more swift — punishment."

The NCAA believes they have fixed the problem of swift justice, too, by approving an increase in the number of infractions committee voting members, from 10 up to 24.

The plan is to split the full committee into smaller panels, all of which could hear cases and allow as many as 10 meetings to take place annually instead of the five that have traditionally been held.

The board overwhelmingly supported all pieces of the legislation and voted unanimously to approve it, though it was unclear if all 13 board members participated in an unusual conference call.

Typically, members attend the Indianapolis meetings in person. But when it became clear that Superstorm Sandy could have a significant impact on travel plans, the members who were not yet in Indy were told to stay home.

Oregon State President Ed Ray, the NCAA executive committee chairman, told The Associated Press it was the first time in his 5½-year tenure the board met on the phone.

But after debating these measures since August 2011, the board was not going let a storm, or anything else, derail the reform movement.

"We have sought all along to remove the 'risk-reward' analysis that has tempted people — often because of the financial pressures to win at all costs — to break the rules in the hopes that either they won't be caught or that the consequences won't be very harsh if they do get caught," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement posted on the governing body's web site.

So the board started by trying to strip cheaters of two of the biggest benefits — money and prestige.

Violators found to be in "serious breach of conduct" with aggravating circumstances could face penalties similar to those imposed on Penn State earlier this year following the Jerry Sandusky scandal — a four-year postseason ban and a $60 million fine.

Head coaches will find themselves under more scrutiny, too.

If any member of the coaching staff commits a serious infraction, the head coach must prove he or she was unaware it occurred or face a suspension ranging from 10 percent of the season to one full season. Some don't believe it is that much to ask.

"Being an assistant for so long, I still think like an assistant coach," Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson said. "I think it's my responsibility, and I like to educate our staff on what to do and that you know what those guys are doing and that you make sure our guys are doing things properly."

Committee members couldn't agree more.

"Everyone I've talked to tells me that if there's anything that coaches are, it is control freaks," Ray said. "They not only know what's going on in their program, they know everything that's going on in their program — and if they don't, they should."

Tuesday's decision is the latest chapter to update and toughen NCAA enforcement policies and procedures.

It started in August 2011 when Emmert asked dozens of school presidents and chancellors to attend a retreat during one of the most scandalous years in college sports.

Afterward, Emmert and Ray among others called on school leaders to get tougher on the most egregious rule-breakers.

The current two-tier penalty structure, for major and secondary infractions, is being scrapped for a four-level stepladder — severe breach of conduct, significant breach of conduct, breach of conduct and incidental issues. Punishment could also be impacted by charges of aggravating circumstances, or intentional violations, and mitigating circumstances that could help a school with its case.

NCAA officials believe it will help allocate more staff to the most serious cases.

But critics worry this may be just another round of tough talk and little action.

"It sounds nice in theory but until I see a big-time coach like (John) Calipari or somebody get suspended for a year, I will not believe this will do anything," said David Ridpath, an Ohio University professor and past president of the NCAA watchdog The Drake Group. "I think there a lot of loopholes in there when you start reading it."

If the policies don't clean up college sports, the NCAA could tweak the legislation, too.

"We'll continue to evaluate it and if we recognize something is not working in the right area, that's a step we will rectify," NCAA director of enforcement Chris Strobel said.

Infractions that occur after the meeting but are not resolved before Aug. 1. 2013, will be subject to the new sanctions. Schools currently under investigation, such as Miami, also could be hit with the new penalties if their cases are not resolved before Aug. 1.

Emmert has backed every legislative piece of the reform movement.

Last fall, the governing body passed a measure calling for tougher eligibility requirements on incoming freshmen and junior college transfers; another that tied academic performance to postseason eligibility; a third that give schools flexibility to offer multiyear scholarships or stick with the standard one-year scholarships (it withstood an override attempt); and a fourth that allowed student-athletes to collect stipends of up to $2,000.

The stipend plan was shelved, though Emmert wants to put it in place. That is unlikely to happen before the board's January meeting. Another committee is trying to shrink the NCAA's massive rule book, but no formal proposal is anticipated before January.

The board is already looking toward next year's reforms. A formal proposal to shrink the massive rule book also is expected to be heard in January, and it agreed to put off any legislation for the 2013-14 academic year until after other reforms are passed.

But on Tuesday, the NCAA rewrote the book by putting a greater emphasis on the role coaches will play moving forward.

"We delegate responsibility to our head coaches, and presidents delegate to athletic directors, just like companies delegate to different levels of management," Kansas State athletic director John Currie said. "Ultimately the leader is accountable."