For NCAA, True Reform Trumps TNT

I thought the USA Today piece about potential changes in – or abandoning of – the NCAA model that could be coming down the pike was excellent in a lot of ways, but the No. 1 reason is that it acknowledged the possibility major problems would endure regardless of who was in charge.

That is the main thing people miss when they start squawking about the NCAA.

“Change, ah say, change!”

Yes, reform is needed in many areas, but talk of burning the whole thing down is counter productive and borders on blindly stupid.

Perhaps the greatest truism in our society is this: We hate whoever is in charge and we know we would do a better job if we had the chance.

The United States of America was formed out of a desire to get out from under a monarchy, and that spirit lives on in us more than two centuries later.

The first time I noticed this was when I was about 12 and there was a revolution in my 4-H club. A change in leadership occurred but few of those inconvenient things we had to do to maintain a functioning club went away even though someone new – popularly chosen to run things – was telling us we had to do them. In the end, everyone’s hogs, cattle, arts and crafts still made it to the county fair, we all got our sale checks and the end-of-the-year potluck went on like usual. Then falls sports started so we (parents included or maybe specifically, as with 4-H) could all be put out by some different set of rules and regulations that were evil but nonetheless necessary in most cases.

The greatest enemy of the NCAA’s effectiveness (let alone efficiency) and therefore its popularity is without a doubt bureaucracy. It is not stupidity or greed, though some who don’t understand capitalism or most real alternatives elite athletes have today might see it that way.

I fail to see how any new organization with more than about a dozen schools would avoid similar bureaucratic problems because the bottom line is this – the NCAA is its members. That would not change if a different title were on the marquee of the new group’s headquarters. There would still be lots of mouths to feed, egos to stroke and agendas to serve.

As stated in the USA Today story, most people are generally happy with how the NCAA runs the lower level championships, and I’ll presume the same is true of Division I nonrevenue championships such was wrestling, volleyball, soccer, etc. The challenges of such undertakings should not be underestimated.

Yes, the Division I-FBS schools operate in much different circumstances than the rest, but that is not because of some NCAA mandate.

Do you know why Ohio State spends more than $30 million on the football team? Because it wants to, the same reason it also spends a pretty (though admittedly much smaller) penny on all the other sports, too.

Furthermore, the current NCAA model already treats the revenue sports differently in multiple ways. Football and basketball both have some of their own recruiting and practice rules. They’re also the only sports that require full-ride scholarships.

That specialized rules already exist would seem to be a pretty good indicator more can be made, perhaps some lifting restrictions on athletes’ ability to receive money for endorsements? What about compensation for their likenesses? Maybe a reasonable side job to make a little extra coin? Everything does not have to be one-size-fits-all.

Passing any or all of those new practices could alleviate some of the inconveniences in what is actually a really good deal for just about everyone involved in intercollegiate athletics, from the highly paid administrators and coaches to the anonymous athletes who receive far more in value of their education, training and life experiences than they receive via thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Let’s not forget the local economies in college towns across the country, either. I like these reforms (suggested by Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, among others) because most of the new money they would generate and/or redistribute would go to the high-profile athletes who have big enough names to actually profit from them, and they represent the relatively few who lose much of anything in the system as it stands now (Although football and basketball players still get big paydays at an earlier age than most or all of their baseball or hockey counterparts, but I digress…).

Might a smaller working group be more manageable? More agile in dealing with problems that arise? Sure, that’s possible, but I don’t believe the current one is beyond becoming more responsive even if real change will not be easy. Neither would starting over.

And while the smaller schools and the big boys might have different sets of problems, they still have a lot of similar interests as well.

6 thoughts on “For NCAA, True Reform Trumps TNT

  1. The breakaway only makes sense if the big schools that break away also have a plan to separate their revenue athletes from the student body in way that would allow them to be paid. As long as the athletes are students in virtually any way, paying them is impossible for 90 percent of all schools because of Title XI which would mandate that ALL athletes, not just the revenue generating ones would be paid.

    As long as the athletic departments and athletes fall at all under the umbrella of the universities themselves, all athletes would have to be paid. If a breakaway happens, it’ll be because the biggest of the big athletic departments find lawyers who can craft a legal framework to break football (and maybe men’s basketball) away from the official auspices of the university and pay the athletes.

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