Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The NCAA Needs a Complete Overhaul

I know this statement has been made ad nauseum by so many other bloggers and commenters and journalists and everyone else who loves to judge college athletics. I also know that it's unlikely any opinion matters to the people who could actually make a difference. But it's my dog-gone blog and I haven't had anything to fire me up in a while, so I'll give it out anyway.

After reading George Dohrmann and David Epstein's impressive expose of Jim Tressel and the Ohio State football program, I am firmly convinced that all college athletics need to be completely overhauled. For too long the NCAA has been putting band-aids on things that need to simply be stitched up.

There are really four problems with college athletics right now. 1) a weak NCAA enforcement system, 2) immoral coaches desperate for results, 3) greedy and complicit university presidents, and 4) sadly, you and me.

The NCAA has not created (read: "does not have the guts to impose") any kind of penalty that will severely deter a school from cheating in the future. It's pretty obvious that no coach or booster is afraid of anything the NCAA might do to them. The egregiousness and continuous nature of the violations in this Ohio State scandal are the worst, IMHO, since SMU in the 1970s and 1980s. If you're going to have a rule book and are trying to encourage enforcement, then you simply have to slam lying coaches and complicit University presidents when they step outside the boundaries, and I don't mean two-year post-season bans, taking away scholarships in the next recruiting cycle, or forcing them to give back a conference championship that they didn't care about anyway. I mean make them lose out on what they're cheating for in the first place by suspending the program for a year, and maybe two. The whole thing comes down to cold hard cash, and even a year of not getting any cash out of their program sends a message that kind of conduct should not be tolerated. Some will say it's not fair to the kids. I say make the University continue to pay their scholarships during the suspended season and if they want to stay and wait to play football, then they can. If not, I'm sure there are plenty of other programs who will take them on.

The second problem is that there are a heck of a lot of immoral "win at all costs" coaches. Some of them are just not easy to spot. Jim Tressel hid behind morality and integrity much of his time at Ohio State and Youngstown State (as that report linked above indicates), but acted outside of that character when it came to getting wins. He's not the first coach to have engaged in this behavior, as is evidenced by the numerous public shamings from coaches trying to win at all cost (Bruce Pearl, Kelvin Sampson, Pete Carroll all come to mind). Call me idealistic, but the coach of a program is supposed to be its face. Coaches are entrusted with our country's youth to help turn them into young successful men. The fact that they are willing to lie and cheat to get themselves ahead sends a horrendous message that this behavior is ok as long as you don't get caught. Of course, the fact that millions of dollars are riding on their success only adds to this negative influence.

The third problem is that the presidents of these universities are so struck by the dollar signs that their athletic programs bring in that they are more than willing to turn a blind eye to the seedy side of college athletics. This stuff about Tressel came out over a month ago and NOW Gordon Gee decides to force him out? Do you think that if Tressel had worn closer to 50% of his games rather than the astounding 85% that he would have lasted that long? Another example is Bruce Pearl. If Bruce had been floating around the 8-8, 9-7 mark in SEC play and had been getting perhaps to the second round of the tournament, Tennessee would not have even thought twice about dumping him before this season began. But because Tennessee basketball was successful, because hiring Lane Kiffin blew up in their faces, and because they needed to keep the excitement alive in UT athletics to keep pulling in dollar signs, they chose to try to find a way to keep Pearl and still take the brunt of the damage. An employee acts out on his own, breaks the rules and jeopardizes the University, and drags its reputation through the mud, and you want to KEEP him? Give me a break.

Now, before I get to point four, the common theme that runs through all of this is money. There is a ridiculous amount of money in the college game right now, and the University presidents and the coaches all want their hand in it. But the guys who are out there risking injury on every play, who aren't provided any incentive to succeed in the classroom, whose interests are not being adequately looked after, don't see a dime. They are now, and have been, exploited for 30+ years, with universities making thousands of jersey sales, video games, TV ratings, etc. And truth be told, they could care less if they make the grade, except the NCAA would punish them if they turned a blind eye to their course work.

Who can blame the athletes? I certainly don't. Many of them came to college without a dollar to their name. Suddenly they're supposed to not sell their game-worn jersey? Or exchange it for a service? Or not take that $500 bill that was put in their hand? Suddenly they can't profit off their own exploits while the universities can?

I'm not proposing that we pay athletes. That would be giving up on academic integrity entirely and would pretty much destroy the concept of "the student-athlete." My proposal is a lot more radical. My proposal is to take the universities back.

Look, the one-and-done rule in college basketball is stupid. If a kid has potential and wants to try his hand at making millions of dollars, and an NBA team is willing to try it, then why stop them? If they want to get their degree instead, then let them do so, but DON'T let them skip out before they've made a significant effort towards obtaining that degree. College football is a different animal obviously, because the nature of the game simply doesn't make it feasible to have football only environments, and 18 year-old kids are simply not ready for the NFL. Finding an answer to that conundrum is a lot tougher than the basketball angle, in my opinion.

Cut out the middle-men. Eradicate the AAU teams and the coaches who try to get in a kids ear and become a hanger-on. Make it so that coaches don't have to play to their every whim and desire. Going to college is a PRIVILEGE, not a right. It is inexcusable that coaches should be the ones who are given the run-around. It should, simply put, be the other way.

If you let the people who want to make money get money, and make the universities do what they are supposed to do, which is educate people, prepare them for life and careers, and help them get a degree that will help them, then suddenly all these open wounds in college sports will heal. Otherwise, we're going to see more of the same, especially with as poor an enforcement mechanism as the NCAA has.

Which brings me to my final point: nothing gets changed as long as the fans continue to flock. I love college sports, you love college sports. We are awestruck by these guys. But did you ever think it was ridiculous that you had to pay $70 for a ticket to a college basketball game? Did you ever consider how unreal it was how much money you spend on a parking spot which may be, but probably isn't, close to the stadium?

Maybe some genius will figure out a way to take the greedy, "win at all costs" nature of college sports out of our universities, or someone will finally get the message across that a ridiculously low percentage of people actually "make" it to professional sports, and you're much better off finishing school and getting your degree, especially since that is a minimum for any half-way decent job these days. All I know is, I'm not that genius, and I'll probably keep watching. But I do know that nothing is going to change unless people are hammered for cheating or incentives to cheat are taken away, and until then don't try to convince me that people give a darn about integrity in college sports.


Home Inspector Training said...

I just hope that Ohio State Football team can find another coach as soon as possible. Even though they lost a long time coach they have, they should move on and focus on the teams goal.

Personal Home Inspector said...

Anyone that acts like college sports is a place for amateurs is either a ruh-tard or lying because they are raking in billions off these “amateurs”. Did Tressel violate NCAA rules, yes? Should he have stepped down for violating those rules, that’s up to him? But that system is archaic in college sports. Sweeping changes need to be made. These athletes shouldn’t get paid to play, but asking them to not accept anything or do anything at all is just foolish.