National Collegiate Athletic Association

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The NCAA News -- November 22, 1999

NCAA answers call to reform

The 'Sanity Code' leads Association down path to enforcement program


As college sports boomed in the 1930s and '40s, the NCAA was looking for checks and balances in order to regulate growth. The business side of sports was rearing its head, particularly with the advent of live television, and the temptation was strong for schools to perhaps question adherence to established rules.

As early as 1931, in fact, E.K. Hall of Dartmouth College, who chaired the NCAA's Football Rules Committee, urged the Convention to "return to sanity" and encouraged the Association to become more regulatory in nature. Hall, in fact, thought the times were so desperate that schools that chose to make football a business rather than a sport would have a tough time finding suitable opponents.

The Association eventually heeded Hall's plea, taking on investigative and judicial powers at the 1940 Convention when the Executive Committee was authorized to probe alleged violations and issue interpretations.

But what the Association lacked in 1940 was a way to enforce its rules and regulations. And though what was to be known as the "Sanity Code" would not fix that problem directly, it may have indirectly led to the growth of the enforcement process as we know it today.

The code was a product of several conditions. In the 1940s, there was evidence of professional gambling on college football and basketball games -- with the accompanying claim that gamblers were fixing the contests. Recruiting also became more national rather than regional because of advances in air travel. And the advent of postseason bowl games in football stepped up the competitive intensity for schools to claim a piece of that financial pie.

"Similar problems had been discussed at the 1938 NCAA Convention, and in 1939 the national body had voted overwhelmingly for a declaration affirming sound principles and practices," said Wiles Hallock, a former executive director of the Pacific-10 and Western Athletic Conferences.

Those five principles in the NCAA's declaration included labeling an amateur as one "to whom athletics is an avocation," said Hallock, who also is a former NCAA public relations director who has researched Association history. The other four encompassed institutional responsibility, sound academic standards, financial aid controls and recruiting restrictions.

Hallock said those principles were characterized as both unreasonable and unfair by the critical media, which labeled the package the "Purity Code."

Call to arms

The outbreak of World War II put whatever thoughts that were building about the Association's power as a regulatory body on hold. The NCAA did encourage its members to continue their intercollegiate athletics programs despite the international crisis, but the time wasn't right for implementing a new program of athletics regulation.

But the postwar NCAA returned to the business of restoring integrity to intercollegiate athletics. The first NCAA "Conference of Conferences" was called in July 1946, and participants drafted a statement called, "Principles for the Conduct of Intercollegiate Athletics."

According to Jack Falla in his book "NCAA, The Voice of College Sports," the principles concerned adherence to the definition of amateurism, holding student-athletes to the same sound academic standards as the student body, awarding financial aid without consideration for athletics ability and a policy of recruiting that basically prohibited a coach or anyone representing a member school from recruiting any prospective student-athlete with the offer of financial aid or equivalent inducement.

Those principles became known as the "Sanity Code." Initially, support for the code was strong. It gained adoption as Article 3 of the NCAA Constitution in 1948.

The code called for a three-person Constitutional Compliance Committee to be established to make rulings on alleged violations. That group looked at 20 such violations in its first year, and seven were brought to the 1950 Convention. But because the sole penalty for the violations was expulsion from the NCAA, the cases failed to gain the required two-thirds majority at the Convention. The seven schools in question retained their membership.

Too restrictive

The code did not necessarily represent "sanity" to everyone involved with the Association at that time.

The 1950 vote on the seven violators was 111 in favor to 93 opposed, which sent an Association-wide signal that a consensus on the code was far from reality.

"Detractors were concerned about the Sanity Code mainly because the only enforcement penalty was expulsion from the NCAA, a price no one wanted to visit on a wrongdoer, regardless of the crime," Hallock said.

In 1951, NCAA President Hugh Willett fought for the code, despite growing criticism. "We have entered the field of so-called 'regulation,'" Willett told the delegates. "It would be dishonest and ungracious of me not to acknowledge the progress we have made in bringing to the consciousness of our members the great need of putting our athletics houses in order."

But the 1951 Convention repealed the code. Those delegates did, however, implement a committee to develop recommendations and proposals for rules enforcement.

"The restrictions in the Sanity Code were such that the majority of institutions felt they couldn't live by it," said Arthur J. Bergstrom, who was the director of athletics at Bradley University at the time. He eventually became the NCAA's second director of enforcement in 1956.

"In fact," Bergstrom said, "it got to the point where a great many schools, especially in the South and Southeast, said that if the code was adopted, they would withdraw their membership from the NCAA. Those schools at that time were some of the few granting aid to athletes. They felt the code placed quite a restriction on the amount of financial aid that could be granted."

But the seed of the enforcement program Bergstrom would eventually administer had been planted in the Sanity Code. Though the code itself was defeated, the Association knew that it had to develop an enforcement program rooted in the integrity that the code professed.

The NCAA Council approved a 12-point code in August 1951 that picked up where the Sanity Code left off. However, this version provided more specific regulatory measures. Those 12 points formed the core of legislation passed during the 1952 Convention that not only provided the regulatory function but also the enforcement arms necessary to uphold the rules.

A nine-member Membership Committee composed of the NCAA president and the eight district vice-presidents was charged with considering complaints filed against member schools. A Committee on Infractions was established in 1954 to replace the Membership Committee, and an assistant to NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers was hired to help administer the process. In 1956, that position was assumed by Bergstrom.

Bergstrom said many of the early cases dealt with violations in financial aid policies.

"After the Sanity Code was defeated, more and more institutions began to provide financial aid to prospective or enrolled student-athletes because kids who were playing athletics and trying to hold an outside job to make ends meet just weren't making it," he said. "So conference by conference, schools began to offer financial assistance to recruits and students already enrolled. And while the idea of the grant-in-aid didn't just happen overnight -- the Big Ten opposed it initially -- eventually they all got together and voted in the legislation similar to what we have to today."

And perhaps the quest for regulation brought the type of "sanity" the membership had sought all along.

"The sweeping changes made in the early 1950s, though they were modified and strengthened, remained unchanged in principle for a period of about 20 years," Falla wrote in his book. "This time, there was no thought of repeal; instead, the now-acknowledged need for regulation and enforcement appeared to be the enduring legacy of the short-lived Sanity Code."

Part III of The NCAA Century Series will examine the Association from 1980-89.


Principles for the Conduct of Intercollegiate Athletics

SECTION 1. Principle of Amateurism. An amateur sportsman is one who engages in sports for the physical, mental or social benefits he derives therefrom, and to whom the sport is an avocation. Any college athlete who takes or is promised pay in any form for participation in athletics does not meet this definition of an amateur.

SECTION 2. Principle of Institutional Control and Responsibility. The control and responsibility for the conduct of both intercollegiate and intramural athletics shall, in the last analysis, be exercised by the institution itself.

SECTION 3. Principle of Sound Academic Standards. Athletes shall be admitted to the institution on the same basis as any other students and shall be required to observe and maintain the same academic standards.

SECTION 4. Principles Governing Financial Aids to Athletes. Financial aids in the form of scholarships, fellowships or otherwise, even though originating from sources other than persons on whom the recipient may be naturally or legally dependent for support, shall be permitted without loss of eligibility [under certain conditions].

SECTION 5. Principle Governing Recruiting. No member of an athletic staff or other official representative of athletic interests shall solicit the attendance at his institution of any prospective student with the offer of financial aid or equivalent inducements. This, however, shall not be deemed to prohibit such staff member or other representative from giving information regarding aids permissible under Section 4.

No member institution shall, directly or through its athletic staff members or by any other means, pay the traveling expenses of any prospective student visiting its campus, nor shall it arrange for or permit excessive entertainment of such prospective student during his visit there.

No member institution shall, on its campus or elsewhere, conduct or have conducted in its behalf any athletic practice session or test at which one or more prospective students reveal, demonstrate, or display their abilities in any branch of sport.