NCAA Must Join 21st Century

Former Ohio State Football Coach Jim Tressel

Jim Tressel on the sideline

Former Tennessee Men's Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl
Bruce at the Mic

Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, Aurburn University, USC Football, USC Men’s BasketballJim Calhoun, Bruce Pearl, Lane Kiffin, University of Tennessee Football program, University of Tennessee Men’s Basketball program, Boise State. What do all these have in common? The NCAA’s Keystone Cops are either currently investigating them or has recently concluded an investigation. In all these cases, some punishment was handed out. And that’s just what I could come up with off the top of my head in about 20 seconds.

In order, Jim Tressel was forced to resign after lying to the NCAA. Terrelle Pryor who first was suspended for the first five games of next season for receiving extra benefits, chose instead to leave school and is looking at the NFL, if there is an NFL season. Auburn University, the reigning BCS Champion, is under investigation for recruiting violations. No idea where that will go, but in the mean time, head coach Gene Chizik got a pay raise most people can only dream about. Southern California had head football coach Pete Carroll abandon ship for the NFL. Head basketball coach Tim Floyd left amid the OJ Mayo scandal and is in, what can only be referred to as head coaching purgatory, at UTEP. Long time Athletic Director Mike Garrett was forced out as a result of all the violations in a house cleaning by the school’s new leadership. Did I mention that Reggie Bush had to return his Heisman Trophy and the school had to return its crystal BCS Championship football? Mr. Bush is also personae non grata at USC. Reigning Men’s Basketball Championship Coach Jim Calhoun of Connecticut will miss the first three games of next season thanks to his own recruiting violations. The program is also losing scholarships and is on three years probation. Bruce Pearl was first suspended then fired for lying to the NCAA. Lane Kiffin is in trouble for his single season at Tennessee accused of failing to monitor his program and the actions of his assistants. Boise State is being investigated for almost two dozen violations across multiple sports from football to tennis, including the grand daddy of them all “lack of institutional control” meaning that there are so many things going on, the administration should have known something was wrong and done something about it.

The NCAA compliance manual, last time I saw it, was thicker than the New York City phone book back when they actually printed phone books. The NCAA regulates every minute detail of an athlete’s life; regulates every aspect of a coach’s life; regulates every possible detail of how an athletic department is to operate. It takes a lot of honesty and a lot of trust from a lot of people to make that happen. If I said that is all easier said than done, I could win understatement of the year.

Truth be told, no program is clean. There is no such thing as a clean program. No one single person, no head coach, no assistant coach, no compliance director, no athletic director, no one can know with 100% certainty that there isn’t something going on with one of their athletes that shouldn’t be. Is it as bad as it used to be? Not by a long shot. Advances in technology make it far easier to catch the cheaters. It’s what brought down Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. Lying to the NCAA makes both men toxic to any other program meaning their careers are likely over, even if Pearl says publically that he will coach again. But should they be? Should the NCAA continue trying to basically drain the ocean one teaspoon at a time? Should it continue to spend money pretending they’re for truth, justice, and the American way? No it shouldn’t. Let’s be honest here. Football and basketball are such cash cows for the schools, the NCAA, and the networks that air their games that no one cares.

It is the almighty dollar controlling college sports, not the NCAA. It’s the NCAA itself that’s letting the money talk. The NCAA signed a 14-year $11 billion (with a B) deal with CBS and Turner Sports for the exclusive rights to the Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. In football, individual conferences and in some cases, individual schools are making their own TV deals with networks from ESPN to Fox to, in the case of Texas, beginning its own TV network. These deals total billions. Schools are swimming in cash. The NCAA is swimming in cash. Isn’t it any surprise that the athletes, you know, the ones that do the actual work, want a cut? It’s hypocritical of the NCAA, the athletic conferences, and the schools to be milking every dollar from every possible source and then tell the athletes “thou shalt not take anything.” It ain’t gonna happen. Try telling a 20 year old who’s seeing all this cash and expect them not to want and expect a cut. You can offer them full room and board and four years of free education. That’s awesome. You’re doing the same for many others on the same campus. The only difference is they can get paid for working. Athletes are going to class, going to practice, travelling, and playing games and being the faces of the university. College athletics are the number one way a school attracts attention, and not just from the next potential recruiting class. Even the academics make a killing off the athletes.

I am not asking for a free-for-all. Not even close. There are ways to get the seedy characters out of college athletics. Those would be the slime such as those back in Pennsylvania who call themselves “mentors” to Terrelle Pryor. These are the men Jim Tressel e-mailed instead of the NCAA when it became clear that something wasn’t right. These “businessmen” have their hands all over the supposed “stars” of college athletics and get programs, coaches, and players in trouble. These characters are all over. In a lot of cases they are “win-at-all-cost” alumni who don’t  give a damn about the NCAA. In others, they’re nothing more than a seemingly good guy with very ulterior motives befriending the athlete very early in their lives (see: Terrelle Pryor). All they care is that their alma maters or guys win. Afterwards, they expect to cash in. Sadly, these goons greatly outnumber the numbers of compliance officers and NCAA investigators combined.

Pro sports agents used to be on college campuses like plagues of locust. Not any longer. The NCAA was able to, along with their member institutions, create a method for tracking agents, controlling them, and even stopping their access to athletes. A similar system would control alumni access to current athletes. Institutions would also demand from their athletes the names of anyone who has ever financially, academically, or otherwise helped them or anyone in their family. Background checks could also be done; they are offering tens of thousands of dollars in education, room, and board as it is. Anyone giving money to a member institution would not be able to interact in any manner with an athlete. In the meantime, a system would be created to give athletes a percentage of the money a member institution gets from their post season, television and endorsement deals. This money would be equal in all sports so not to violate Title IX. Since we are talking about a percentage of such large sums of money (remember these sources total millions of dollars to each institution over the course of a calendar year), the actual dollar amount would, while not large, be sufficient to curb the vast majority of illegal activity.

Let’s face it. The big boys of college sports, football and men’s basketball, are de facto minor leagues for the pros. Each allows its players to leave for the professional drafts and free agency earlier than graduation (3 years for football, one in basketball although either could change in a new collective bargaining agreement). The numbers of those jumping early is ever increasing given the size of the contracts awarded in both sports, much of it guaranteed before ever playing a game. Why stay in college, where presently they aren’t getting paid, and risk injury when the better trainers, doctors and facilities are at the pro level. The added benefit of a guaranteed paycheck doesn’t hurt either. Once the NCAA joins the reality of the 21st century instead of continuing to look like Don Quixote tilting foolishly with windmills, and begins treating college athletics as the minor league programs they are, the sooner the majority of its current headaches go away.

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