Ted and Jesse's E-mail Adventures Tackles North Carolina and the NCAA

I'm pretty sure no one in North Carolina is a big fan of this guy.

Lost in the shuffle of this weekend's Opening Weekend Extravaganza was news out of NCAA headquarters that North Carolina did not break any rules and thusly, the NCAA will not be enforcing any additional penalties. This is probably not a huge story in any other year because it makes sense, right? The NCAA only intervenes where it feels like it has jurisdiction. There is consistency and precedent and we all move forward, except, you know... the whole Penn State fiasco.

Needless to say, this deserves a bit more discussion and so Ted and I took some time out of our weekend hangover and embarked on another "Ted and Jesse's E-mail adventures" in hopes of getting to the bottom of the ridiculous mess that is the NCAA. The following is what unfolded...

Jesse:

Alright Ted,

I guess we should just go ahead and start this all out with a congratulatory double deuce to the NCAA. Seriously, what the hell just happened? Moreover, how in the world can we take the NCAA seriously ever again? Also, WHERE THE HELL IS THE PRESS ON THIS STORY? I had to dig up some random college blog to get the current ruling (which to be fair could change).

All of my life, I have defended the NCAA as a necessary evil in an industry that is increasingly professional by nature. I think I speak for most all of us when I say that the allure and beauty of collegiate sports is that it is amateur by nature and the reality is that these kids are also balancing school, life, dorms, girls/boys, and everything else that we all did. It is the great equalizer and while none of us believe this is really the case, we can an least imagine it and then look to the NCAA to take care of the rest. It's not a bad deal and up until the last five or so years, it seems like they have made the right choices more often than not.

In fact, I wrote an entire article in spite of my misgivings about them interfering in the Penn State Scandal because I felt like this was something that made sense. The NCAA could be the arbiter of morals in sports. That was totally cool with me because sports should never be more than the schools they happen to represent. I understood that, most all of you understood that, and even most of the talking heads that don't get much understood that. I figured that would be a good stepping stone to hammering Miami for their legitimately terrible indescresions under the guise of making football good, they could deal a blow to Oregon for spending money on advantages that were not only downright stupid but also lacking integrity at such a fundamental level that everyone just assumed they'd be suspended already, and finally we expected North Carolina would not be playing with a full bevy of scholarships in our lifetime because if the facts were correct, and by all accounts to date they are, they should be hammered for sacrificing the highest level of what the NCAA stood for - the students.

But no, they didn't do that and we're left with this mess. To say that I'm angry is probably an understatement, but we will get to that in a bit. I guess I will let you get your opening thoughts out there. How the hell did this happen? When did the NCAA decide "You know what, making school less important than sports is bad unless you're North Carolina,"? Have they officially jumped the shark on this one? Will we ever take them seriously again?

Ted:

Uh, Hell yeah, the NCAA has jumped the shark. My opening thoughts are either to laugh or shake my head in disgust. I guess I can do both, right? We've kind of gone over this a little bit before, but I've said that I was done being the moral arbiter when it came to athletes. I am of the opinion that if a team can live with an athlete's transgressions, fine. But on an institutional level, I would agree that there needs to be some sort of organization that oversees the group as a whole, and keeps everyone in line.

That group isn't the NCAA in it's current state. I never understood their inconsistency and the seemingly arbitrary manner in which they handed down punishment. But what the NCAA deals with (or doesn't deal with depending on your viewpoint) is cheating that goes on at colleges to give their teams a competitive advantage. Maybe. Supposedly. Allegedly.

Until the Penn State fiasco. Granted, to try and compare academic cheating with the Sandusky scandal is ludicrous, but the reasoning as to why the NCAA intervened isn't.

In punishing Penn State, Mark Emmert made the case that even though no NCAA rules were broken, action needed to be taken because of the nature of the offenses. So the precedent was set, one would think, that to protect the image of NCAA member institutions, the NCAA would start penalizing schools

I wanted to believe that the NCAA might have turned the corner on their inconsistency and impotency with the Penn State case. I was still unsure whether or not they should've intervened, but they did, and at the time I thought that it could be a new beginning, of sorts. Schools that break the rules will find a new and harsher environment, and maybe, just maybe, there will be real penalties for real transgressions.

In their statement, the NCAA said of North Carolina that 'no NCAA rules had been broken', so they took a pass on handing out any more punishment. So there was academic fraud, to keep players eligible...yet no NCAA rules were broken. And at Penn State, no NCAA rules had been broken, yet Penn State was given a penalty that, next to SMU, is the harshest level of penalties handed down in NCAA history.

So why?

Press coverage, and the moral indignation handed down from on high by the press. Plain and simple. The NCAA hammered Penn State because everyone was practically daring them to, and hardly anyone has even said 'boo' about this story. To say that the NCAA really gives two hoots in Hell about the integrity of the student-athlete has been proven false.

I could live with a tough, new consistent NCAA that really punished schools for academic fraud, improper benefits, paying of players under the table, and all the other things that can go wrong in today's environment. What I can't stand is this inconsistency, because it sends a message to other schools that it's 50-50 on whether you'll get hammered. You might as well run the risk, because the financial rewards could very well be worth it, especially if the penalties you get aren't that severe. In this day and age, you can talk me into a college player being able to make a few bucks by signing autographs or--gasp--selling his own stuff, yet those are NCAA violations that can land a program on probation. Yet committing academic fraud on a massive scale? Yeah, whatever. Nothing to see here, move along. Show's over folks.

And after the fact, there was a sizable contingent of folks that thought the NCAA had overstepped their bounds, so in either case, the NCAA loses big here. Depending on your side of the Penn State situation, they either came across as the new moral arbitrator that was promising a new era in enforcement...yet did nothing here. Or, they really overstepped their bounds and needed to get back to the business of policing academic fraud and improper benefits to players...and still they did nothing here.

So, with the NCAA pretty much castrating themselves, what can we expect in terms of penalties for Miami, South Carolina, and Oregon, if anything? And if the NCAA is just going to be an organization that hands out punishment on a whim and in such a random manner, should the big BCS conferences just break away from the NCAA and start their own collective association, or should they push for a more concrete set of rules for NCAA intervention and punishment?

Jesse:

Man, just reading the realities of how stupid this decision was is killing me. Like you said, most schools now would probably choose the 50/50 chance of getting caught so that they have success over not doing anything. Do you think Memphis cares that D. Rose screwed them out of a little revenue sharing and got their Final Four redacted? No, because donors and season ticket holders went up. How about USC with Bush and Mayo? And as your last questions implied, how about South Carolina, Oregon, or Miami? If these three teams do end up getting hammered, wasn't it totally worth it?

It's infuriating, isn't it? To answer your questions, though, I just don't even think I can predict what the NCAA will do any longer. I was holding out hope that they would either sit on their hands until all the information at North Carolina was out and then hammer accordingly or that they would just swing away in light of their new power base. They did the one thing I thought would be totally inappropriate and that is say they see that no rules were broken and will monitor accordingly. That seems like the world's greatest copout and since no news organizations could care less, they're getting away with it. Suddenly Oregon is walking a little taller, and Miami is putting on the Troll Smile. It's ridiculous.

That's why my answer to your second question seems to be even more painful. I see no reason for major conferences to secede. It makes a lot of sense and it could even prove that they believe that their athletics stand for something. Still, I just do not believe any of the member schools really believe this mantra any longer. Remember when Freeh was being interviewed about the Penn State report and he basically said that sports, specifically football, were put ahead of academics and that was problematic? You do? Well the dirty little secret is that everyone has this problem. That's why nobody minds, except Penn State backers, when crazy stuff happens. Think about it, million dollar upgrades in facilities, private jets, golf outings at the best courses, glitz and glamor, seven digit salaries, and god status in the state? Why mess with a good thing.

By that very same token, do you think any of the academic programs are getting the same love? Hell, even on a scalable comparison are they getting the same love? Even scarier to me is that this might start rolling downhill. I heard a Texas High School spent $60 Million on a football field. $60 MILLION!!! Are you effing serious? We literally have districts going bankrupt, teachers working two jobs to feed their family, and declining test scores and they spent money on a 35 foot replay screen? This is the future of America ladies and gentlemen.

Why does this all happen though? Are we as fans responsible? Did we feed into the media hype that the NCAA used to flex their muscle? Is our lack of outrage over things like North Carolina fabricating an entire major for students a sign that we just don't think academics matter? I feel like we need to answer these questions to at least accept the blinders on mentality, right?

Ted:

Hey, I hear you on the screwed up priorities for facilities. A few years back, the local high school here in the town I live in put in a million dollar pro turf field, and my daughter was coming home with books that were literally duct taped together, and the school was way overcrowded. That million bucks would have gone a long way to expand the school and maybe buy some books, but people don't pay to watch the debate team on Fridays.

Anyway, let's try and get back to answering your questions. All of this happens because college football is the greatest reality TV programming around. It really does happen in the moment, unlike contrived 'reality' shows, and literally millions of people walk away happy or sad based on the performance of a kid that's probably not old enough to legally drink. Because hell yes, we're responsible, and of course we feed the media hype machine.

But the media hype machine does what it wants, and when they have a narrative they don't let go, facts be damned. And that helps drive the faux outrage, which brings in ratings, sells magazines, etc. And we walk right into it, every time. If we didn't, ESPN wouldn't be the monolith that it is.

Because it all comes back to money. Money is what drives the train now, and that's just a fact of life. So on one hand, it seems almost absurd to apply penalties and standards based on what college athletics was in the mid 20th century. It seems dumb to me that if somebody wants to pay a kid for his autograph, that kid can't make a few bucks off of it. The university is making hundreds of millions off of him, why can't that student athlete get a little piece of the action? Conferences and schools are getting their own TV networks now, and at least in the case of the BTN, it's very successful.

Do we feed that, and are fans responsible for it? Sure, to some degree. We want our teams to be successful, and to be successful coaches need to recruit top notch athletes. Sometimes, those athletes aren't the sharpest tools in the shed. Now, are we the fans responsible for the University developing a fraudulent major program to put academically inferior students through the system? No. We are responsible for the 'football culture' that permeates all the big time schools. But so what? Seriously, should we as fans not cheer and emotionally invest in something that's a fun escape from the day to day drudgery of real life? No.

And part of the problem is that the NCAA hasn't evolved for the 21st century. They hammered Ohio State because Jim Tressel lied to them, and yes, OSU should've been punished. But Tressel lied about guys essentially selling their own stuff to get some walking around money. That shouldn't be illegal.

So, if the B1G, SEC, Big XII, and other power conferences aren't going to secede from the NCAA and start their own renegade association, how can we balance these things? I know the idea has been floated about paying players a stipend, and the purists are shocked in horror when it's suggested. I don't think it's a bad idea, but even the proponents say that if you're going to do that, you have to pay all the student athletes. But do you? Why should the athletic department shell out money to the best archery shooter when archery doesn't bring in any money?

So, should we eliminate a lot of these ticky tack infractions and let players get paid? And was North Carolina so far off with their fraudulent major program? Now, hear me out on this. Let's face reality, because some of these players are only qualified to be in college because they can play football or basketball, and both the player and the University are in on the charade. So why not set up some sort of academic program specifically for athletes?

Maybe the unique academic program for athletes is a bit much, but with the NCAA unwilling to standardize their penalties for infractions, something needs to change. But what? NCAA overhaul? NCAA overhaul with some sort of way to pay players? Shouldn't players be able to make money on their own in terms of autographs and appearances? And would that help solve a lot of the problems we're seeing today, or would it create more?

Jesse:

It's funny how we digress... Still, I think it's kind of the natural next step, right? I actually had never thought about a special program or degree for NCAA athletes, but it is something to think about. I recently was curious about the average dropout rates for major universities and was stunned. The NCAA released their numbers last year and Bloomberg reported that athletes finish with a degree to the tune of 82% and FBS Football players are finishing their degrees to the tune of 69% with the four year average hovering around 67%. That's astonishing considering the national average for 5 year graduation with a BA/BS at public universities is 59.5% and it is 64.6% for private non-profit universities. Football players are outpacing the average, which is pretty amazing, and to be honest, we can also not understate the obvious racial ramifications of this practice. More black males are getting degrees through sports than by any other means, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

So why bring up all these stats? Well, I guess to start, I wouldn't really make an athlete-only program because there seems to be proof that most schools are doing just fine. Sure, there are easier degrees than others, but that's not just limited to athletes. I forget where I saw the worst thread ever, but basically it was an argument on what degree is okay to have and what wasn't. Someone was whining that athletes were taking a Communication degree and it was so much easier than some other programs. Sure, maybe it was, but if they are going to class and working hard, does it matter? I got a Communication Degree after taking 9 years to finish. Between life, work, and being burnt out at the idea of school, I did not think I would ever go back and make it happen, but I did and I am damn proud of my stupid piece of paper sitting in my closet. Why? Because I did it, and you better believe that many of these players who never had a chance to get a degree by other means but did it are just as proud of their degree as any other accomplishment. Many are first generation College Grads and while they may not be the smartest person in the room, their kids have a precedent set. Even more important, they can be successful with that piece of paper because most of the time, an employer just wants to know that you had the guts and fortitude to make that happen. But that's not completely what we're talking about now, is it?

No, what we're discussing here is something bigger. We're talking about overhauling a broken system to make it more fair and less stupid. As a general rule of thumb, I believe the NCAA succeeds at doing what it does best for almost all sports not named Football and Basketball. While there are always going to be indiscretions out there, I would venture to guess that there is fair play, good competition, and general oversight for non-revenue sports and they do great at creating a framework by which all can have a good time at college, get an education, and give some pride to their school. So let's not change the basic premise of the organization by making special dispensation for athletes with regard to schoolwork. However, the stipend thing? Yeah, let's work on that a bit.

Look, if I'm a world renowned writer going to the University of Nebraska on a full-ride scholarship for academics and excellence in writing, I can still go out and sell whatever I want that I write to make money. The same goes if I'm an engineer who created a fancy new way to transport water, even if it was on the backs of the University. Every other scholarship person at a University is well within their right to make money off of their talents despite having a scholarship from the College. On top of that, they are within their right to make money off of whatever they invented, even if it was using University facilities (I know there is a little gray area, but stick with me here people). The thing is, they are not specifically revenue-generating. Schools know they can make money off of Burkhead jerseys so long as there is no name on the back. It's just a 22, so no big deal, right? Free education is great, but not being able to sell what is rightfully yours -- such as an autograph -- is ridiculous and hypocritical.

The NCAA needs to get with the times. If not, sooner or later they will force themselves into irrelevancy. You mentioned in your response that a lot of what the NCAA does is because we let them do it. We enable them. One of the great Communication Theories I focused on in my undergrad was Uses and Means Theory. More or less, it states that we cannot blame media for the influence it has on our lives because we use it to satiate our own desires. Basically, it's our own drug and it's only telling us what we crave. I think this applies to what you're talking about, but I only think we're going to listen for a little bit longer. This, "ALL POWERFUL ENTITY" crap needs to end. If they are going to say they are about the student-athlete and about morals and ethics, and all the other crap they shove down our throats and that we lap up, then they need to prove it. If not, they will eventually use up all of their good will and we will revolt. It's inevitable.

Anyhow, I think this has carried on long enough. I'll give you a chance to do last thoughts.

Ted:

Wow, thanks for blowing my idea out of the water. I had no idea that football players were graduating at a level better than non-football players. And you got your degree in just 9 years? I call that over achieving. 13 years for my undergrad, and another 8 for my Master's, baby! But once it was done, it was nice to say I did it.

Anyway, let's wrap this up. You brought up a good point that the NCAA seems to do a pretty good job...except for their high profile sports, football and men's basketball. Maybe they need to alter the rules a bit for those sports, because let's face it, Cecil Newton wouldn't have received six figures to fix up his church of Cam Newton was an All American bowler. And no one would've been offering Cam a $500 or $1000 appearance fee to sign bowling pins. That's the big problem, and if the NCAA can get a handle on that, and modify the rules regarding stuff like that, they might come out of this looking all right.

But I doubt they will. The NCAA has needed reforms since big money started getting into college football, and they haven't done a thing. There's nothing that tells me they'll worry about it now.

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