Thursday, August 18, 2011

The End of the NCAA?

College athletics are a mess.  While select schools reap tremendous economic rewards, the student athletes must take whatever the NCAA determines they are worth.  This is a remarkable system, especially if you are the one in control of the means of production.  I don't need to quote Marx here.  The point is too obvious for words.

Here's the problem, in the words of Michael Rosenberg:

But college sports, at their core, have nothing to do with amateurism. I mean that in a very practical sense. Players choose schools for education or playing time or because they like the coaches or the helmets. They work out and practice and study and party. Coaches watch film and recruit and put together game plans and punt on fourth-and-1 when they should go for it.

Nobody gets into sports because they have a passion for players not getting paid. They are certainly players who believe in following rules, but that doesn't mean they believe in the rules themselves.
This why all these scandals are not terribly surprising.  There is a market for elite college athletes, and there is also a need to win.  Put those two impulses together and you get exactly what we see in Miami and North Carolina; in Oregon and Southern California; in Auburn, Alabama, and Ohio State.

Anybody who thinks bad things only happen at other schools in not living in the real world.

Part of the problem is that the rules make no sense.  They address different questions for different times, and are established by people who lead comfortable lives and make more money than they probably deserve.  Case in point: Terrelle Pryor quarterbacks his OSU team to victory over hated arch rival Michigan and is given a pair of funny looking pants.  They are given to him because he had, as a student athlete, the opportunity to represent Ohio State.  This is an opportunity that other students do not have.  The pants themselves are immaterial, for the student population does not have access to them, irrespective of whether Pryor decides to sell them or not.  Of course, when Pryor decides to sell these pants, he violates an NCAA rule that does not allow him to benefit in ways other students cannot.

Not sure how that makes any sense.

This is why, to Guy's question whether disclosure would work, the answer depends on your goal for college athletics.  Clearly, disclosure only works once we disabuse ourselves of the quaint idea that  elite athletes go to college to get a top-notch education. Some do, I am sure.  But too many come to college to prepare for "the league."  And there is really nothing wrong with that.

It is time to turn back the clock to 1905 and blow up the system.  The NCAA exists only because a lot of fat cats want it to exist. 

Were I NCAA czar, I would begin my reform project with three basic ideas.  First, I would stop pretending athletes have no value.  They do.  And they know it. Pretending otherwise is not really working.  This reminds me of Nancy Reagan's abstinence program. Makes plenty of sense in theory, even if impractical in the real world.  Amateurism no longer makes any sense.  Big time college athletics are big business.  We should treat the athletes accordingly and stop pretending otherwise.

Second, I would punish schools for their indiscretions.  Heavily.  This might force them to monitor their coaches.

Third, I would also punish the head coaches.  As matter stand today, coaches walk away while their schools are left behind to pick up the pieces.  It happened at Indiana University with the mess left by Kelvin Sampson, and at USC with Pete Carroll, who went on to a $33 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks.  This also makes no sense.  To ask schools simply to show cause in hiring these coaches is not enough.  Restitution might be a much better option.

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