UMBC yesterday became one of the first five Division I schools given the full NCAA seal of approval under new national guidelines.
In a telephone conference call with reporters, NCAA officials announced that these schools passed the new test: Arizona State, UMBC, St. John's, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Under the new guidelines, all 302 Division I schools must be reviewed once every five years for academic integrity, financial stability, administrative structure and progress toward equity for women and minorities.
The five schools approved yesterday had volunteered to be among the first campuses reviewed under a reform approved at the 1993 NCAA convention. While the NCAA maintains its powers to sanction campuses, this represents the first effort to review colleges on a systematic basis.
By the end of the year, 60 Division I colleges and universities will have undergone the procedure, which requires a yearlong self-study and an assessment by a panel from other campuses.
Were a school to fail to be certified, it would be excluded from postseason play in all Division I sports -- a blow for morale and, for many schools, the pocketbook.
The measure was included in a package of reforms approved by the NCAA that year intended to polish the sometimes-tarnished image of big-time college sports and to ensure that all campuses were judged evenly when violations were found.
"There used to be a joke that the NCAA got so mad at [the University of] Kentucky that they put Cleveland State on probation for three years," UMBC vice provost Charles Woolston said. "The NCAA has indicated that it will hold everyone to the same standard."
Three schools were given conditional certification: Louisiana State, Northern Illinois and St. Mary's College in California. LSU and Northern Illinois were told to establish by the end of the year a written policy to work on equalizing the programs run for women with those for men. The NCAA Committee of Athletics Certification is requiring St. Mary's to address gender equity concerns along with the climate for minority athletes.
The review is designed to help schools meet the standards, according to the NCAA's top enforcement official, John Leavenn.
"It would be an institution that flat-out didn't take any action to improve that would face those kinds of sanctions," said Leavenn, the NCAA's assistant executive director for compliance services.