If you have never been to Off Tackle Empire, you have missed some pretty outrageous pieces where Ted and I collaborated on the obnoxiousness of things in general. What is always funny about these pieces is they are generally started pretty organically with a, "Hey, what do you think about [fill in the blank]?" and end in a lot of words being spoken and more than enough one-liners to fill up a notebook or seven.
So, when I heard about the Auburn mess, I thought it would be a great time to bust out another look at where we stand in College Football. Most all of us can agree that there is already a mess at most every major college football program, whether we believe it or not, but what we don't always agree on is how to take care of it. We address that and some other things in another installment of Ted and Jesse's Excellent E-mail Adventures: The One Where We Took Over College Football.
Everyone should just come to expect our Adventures in Bloviating when something absurd happens in the College Football World. Heck, I think we should probably just make this a quarterly thing and discuss the ins and outs of life, the universe, and everything, but something about where that might end up seems a bit... scary. Nonetheless, something big is happening in College Sports, and while two events may seem disconnected, maybe they really aren't.
Of course, today I am focusing on the crazy article about Auburn. Fairly respected reporter, Selena Roberts, of A. Rod: Steroid User fame and Duke: LAX Rape Scandal fame, started her new publication and dropped a bomb of investigative journalism with named sources linking the National Championship Auburn teams led by Gene Chizik to impropriety that included the payment of players and changing of grades. Of course the world went crazy because: a) duh, and b) no, seriously, duh. Who didn't think that it was happening at Auburn? Iowa State fans will be quick to tell you that Chizik is not exactly the greatest coach ever, and all of a sudden his team was a National Champion. Cecil Newton got paid. Cam Newton showed up. The rest is history that won't be repealed because the NCAA both can't do anything about it, and also chooses not to do anything.
All that to say, we are definitely presented with another case of, "What does all of this mean?" Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Ed Obannon is currently working hard to make sure that players get paid their due. After all, anything can happen to them, and while education is nice and all, it does seem absurd that a 'non-profit' organization is making billions off their likeness and telling them they don't stand a chance to get anywhere without playing the part. The reality of this case goes so far as to forcing Delaney to overreach and say he would consider dropping the B1G to Div III if that happens. Let's all agree that was a gambit. Although, I can see the allure of it all.
So what do these things have to do with each other? Well, obviously money, but more importantly I think it speaks to this very clear reality that we find ourselves in every offseason - how do we take care of kids who are generally being exploited - more so those from poor neighborhoods who have no way out but this - while trying to play by some old rules of amateurism? Also, how do we cope with the very clear reality that most likely, everybody is doing this. Auburn just spurned their own here and that made them uneasy. Heck, even as all of the sources recant, you can see how this would happen and no one blinks an eye. So that's where I'll leave it to you Ted. Shoot me your opening salvo on what exactly is going on in College Sports.
What's going on in college sports? What's NOT going on in college sports? You mentioned Auburn and Ed O'Bannon, but look at Steve Alford--pretty much extorts a 10 year contract extension at New Mexico and then takes the UCLA job the very...next...day. Whoever the Rutgers basketball coach is (I really don't care two hoots about basketball, and even less about Rutgers at this point, so I'm not even going to bother looking up dude's name) shoves and throws basketballs at his players, and gets fired.
You know, I used to be the King of Indignant Moral Outrage about this kind of stuff, I really did. But now? I just shrug my shoulders and say 'whatever'. You have college programs that have cheating and the payment of players at part of their core recruiting strategy, with an oversight body (the NCAA) that smacks of hypocrisy and corruption in their own right. Part of the problem is the archaic rules currently in place, and I hope Ed O'Bannon wins his lawsuit. Seriously, why should it be against NCAA rules for a kid to be compensated for use of his likeness on a video game? Why can't a student-athlete get paid for signing autographs at a card show?
I'm almost to the point of 'so what'? So what if teams pay players? So what if boosters give no show jobs to football players? So what if players sell their own stuff or barter them for, say, tattoos? So what if a recruit's dad gets a new church built? Seriously, who is it hurting, and why should I care? Now, if we're talking academic cheating, that's different. But the NCAA doesn't give two hoots about that, either. Do they, North Carolina?
And that's the problem. The NCAA is charged with looking at everything with having the manpower to realistically look at almost nothing. And when they do investigate, they might actually break real laws as opposed to make believe NCAA penalties that have no legal implication outside of college campuses. They have no suobpeona power, so unless a school turns themselves in, nothing will happen. Penalties, if they are imposed, don't have the kind of effect that will make schools think twice about doing it again. So I think we have a decision to make as a society--either quit with the fake moral outrage and accept that this is what goes on, or give the NCAA (or a new governing body, I don't care) an investigative arm with a table of penalties that will bring most of this stuff to a halt. But now you're talking about no TV and a possible death penalty.
So yeah, that ain't happening. Neither is the B1G to Division III.
What? Delaney was bluffing? Color me surprised...
I do wonder if the careless attitude towards academics will ever catch up to anyone. While there was not enough proof at North Carolina, again due to the NCAA's inept arm of investigation, and there have been countless other cases of, "Well, he was a football player and while he hasn't been to class this year, he has a B," anecdotes to fill multiple volumes, we still have not seen the NCAA hammer anyone for putting sports first. Why? Because sports is first. You bring up Alford, and his sliminess goes to show just how far that will go. Athlete accused of sexual assault? Have it proven that you asked a minister on campus to tell the girl to shut up. And that doesn't even touch the countless times that you hear southern and northern, my Nebraska Cornhuskers included, indicted on serious grievances against women in the name of sports. Why? Because this is the golden goose and don't ever mess around with the golden goose.
But I do disagree with you a little bit. On the thought process of what does it hurt, I think we often overlook the deep shadiness that goes on with 18-22 year old kids without advisers. Should they be able to sell memorabilia with their face on it? Yes, it's insane that they can't. Should they get paid for jobs they aren't doing? Well, that becomes a little iffier because a lot of times it's bankrolls of guys who want something from them later. I do not begrudge the NCAA for finding some fault in these systems. But your overall message, I agree with.
So we established the entire thing is a mess full of countless problems. Chief of these is that the current solutions isn't working. Of course, that's mainly because they are less, 'solutions,' and more, 'oh look, shiny things.' With that in mind, let's do a little thought exercise in fixing this mess before it becomes so ridiculous that everyone just gives up. If you were Emperor of the College Football Empire, what would you do? We have established that an investigative arm is off the table if their penalties are only death penalty and TV exposure, but surely we can think of something.
Okay, so I'm Emperor of College Football. I need to replace the NCAA, and I need to replace it with an agency that won't have to do oversight on as many things, but the things they will be responsible for they need to have the manpower and regulatory ability to enforce the rules established. The only way the NCAA is going to be superseded by another governing/oversight body is if the power BCS conferences spilt off and start one.
So, with that in mind, I put the record player on 78 rpm (and does ANYONE under the age of 40 get that reference...Bueller?) and speed up this game of Conference Realignment Musical Chairs and let the dust settle. For the sake of argument, let's say we have 4 power conferences left--the B1G, SEC, PAC-Whatever and Big 12. Just for the sake of argument, let's say each of these conferences has a minimum of 16 teams in it, max of 20. That gives us any where from 64-80 schools that can split off from the NCAA and start their own oversight body, which I have been saying is inevitable for awhile, anyway.
With this new governing association, within the by-laws we-decriminalize things like students getting paid for things like personal appearances, autograph shows, signing memorabilia, etc...because we can consider that employment outside of class. Gotta track hours worked, income earned, etc., but it seems dumb that they can't capitalize on some earning potential. Basically, let's get with the 21st century on things. And you can do that without this becoming another professional league.
Because this would have to be a give and take. If we're going to let students do that, we're going to hammer schools for doing what we consider to be illegal. Maybe regulate the official visits by having a governing body chaperone accompany the student(s). Give this new governing body some teeth--subpeona power, for example, to compel people to talk to investigators. Maybe look at being able to charge boosters with bribery if they're caught giving under the table money to potential recruits, or to their parents to build a new church. Or let investigators show up unannounced and demand to see car loan and title information for every player, right then.
And for students that accept that money? Look, for the most part these are kids that made a dumb decision. It wasn't smart, but it doesn't need to be life-altering, either. Don't ruin their lives over it, but put some real meat into punishment. Kick them off the team, but allow them to finish that semester at school under their scholarship. If they get a certain GPA, let's just throw out 2.5 as a starting point, let's allow them to transfer to another school outside the current conference that school is in. If that new school is willing they can give the student a partial scholarship, and they won't have to sit out for a year.
When coaches leave a school to take a new job like Steve Alford did, players recruited by that coach will be given a one time opportunity to transfer without having to sit a year, but they can't go to the school the coach ended up at. If they choose to transfer and choose to follow the coach, they sit out a year.
And put the death penalty and TV blackouts back in serious play, but in the construct of a penalty of tables, so when you get caught, you can expect what your punishment will be. Part of the reason everyone hates the NCAA almost as much as they hate the schools that cheat is because the NCAA is so haphazard in doling out punishment. Make the punishment consistent, and don't make exceptions for schools that are big in TV ratings. Give a school like USC, Oregon, or Miami the death penalty, and it might make schools sit up and take notice.
Maybe that might stem the tide of all the shady dealings, or maybe schools would continue to adapt. I would guess it would be a combination of both, but I do believe an oversight agency with strong regulatory and investigative powers would do some good, and hopefully help root out the worst offenders. And maybe a few death penalty pelts on the wall of some prominent programs would make everyone really stop and think, and maybe they'd start doing some serious self-policing.
Let me turn this back on you...since I'm the Emperor and all. Let's say when I started I made you my Deputy Emperor, then one day I decided to take my sweet pension, buy a lake cabin somewhere, a brand new fishing boat, and call it a career. But before I left I named you my hand picked successor. Your first task will be to name the brand new headquarters building after me and bestow upon me free OSU tickets for life, to include private jet flights to and from my cabin to Columbus. And limo rides. Because private jets and limos are cool, and I was an Emperor, fergodsakes.
But after that you can do anything you want. Are you keeping any of my policies in place, or are you chucking them all and starting from scratch?
Done, you will be flying on the Ted I and we will make sure to make inquiries with the Northwestern folk on which limo service offers the best champagne for the ride to the Shoe.
So I am the new Emperor, ruling from our new headquarters made out of the finest marble in all the world, and my offices are somewhere warm - no offense to our fair Midwest, but work needs to be done year-round and that work includes learning how not to suck at golf. I was just handed the original bylaws that Emperor Ted the Magnificent forged from the... well, maybe this doesn't need to be too mythological. Nonetheless, I am sitting at our first board meeting and that pesky intern we let in the room raises his hand, "Sir, it has come to our attention that our bylaws have allowed great coaches to wreak havoc on schools, but then go work at another one in our system with little to no effect. We tried to put show-cause penalties in place, but they just ran to the NFL and left the school to rot. What are you going to do about this?"
But seriously, I think that is the first place I expand. It's funny you bring up Miami, USC, and Oregon because I think each of these represents a very different problem. I do not believe Miami's coaching tree was able to really stem the tide of insanity being wreaked by the booster community. However, in not doing anything to stop it, they were quite complicit and deserve any penalties that should befall the university. Financially and professionally. USC and Oregon fall directly on the coaches, but both Carroll and Kelly seem to be in the clear. So what would I propose? I would require certification to be a TCAA (Ted's Collegiate Athletic Association) coach and part of the deal would be that you are required to report improprieties. If something happens on your watch, your contract is void and you will no longer be able to coach in the TCAA again. Additionally, you will be responsible to pay substantial fines as part of the deal. Now, I'm not a lawyer, so we'd have to make sure that the contract language is legal, but considering this will be the biggest sports industry outside of the NFL, I think coaches will still sign up.
As for TV blackouts, I would be totally for this, but maybe the better answer would be to just suspend a team from our league for a year. Look, if you screw up, we're replacing you with any number of NCAA teams that are totally ready to play in the next level. If you cheated, you are totally going to be relegated. On top of that, every single player on your team is eligible for transfer, and their scholarships will be paid by the offending university. BAM. Look, you want accountability? There is your accountability. If a school knew they were on the line for scholarships of kids who don't even go their school anymore, maybe they would think twice about the finite financial gains they had in the short term.
But here is the problem. I am suddenly getting ripped to shreds by the Stuart Scotts of the world because this is unfair to the walk-ons. This is unfair to the kids who won't get another scholarship to play. I get that part, but these kids who won't be playing have a chance to play somewhere else, can stay and play, or go to school. The school is paid for. Whether their dreams are crushed is immaterial because they were part of an organization that suffered and just like in life, more often than not your job is more dependent on other people's failures and successes than your own. How is that for the American Dream?
Otherwise, I will continue your long-lasting legacy. Kids can make money off of their own likeness - like they should. Only now it's legal and in the open. We can control those transactions mainly by requiring paperwork for work done and make it all taxable. The government is happy with us because I have made us a for-profit organization. Our TV contracts are out of this world. We are featured as the saviors of collegiate sports as we have created a system where everyone who is good can prosper. And, we ride off into the sunset with cigars, scotch, and dollar bills. Of course, something has to trip us up. What do you do with the Petrinos of the world? What do you do with the Sanduskys? Our organization has helped, but the moral outrage never stops. Is this all just window dressing or is it that this world is so imperfect that we can only do so much? What would we do about Auburn?
Bobby Petrino...he still makes me laugh. What would I do? I think the way Arkansas handled that was Arkansas' business. And if Arkansas had retained him, I would've been fine with that. Like I said, I'm not going to sit on high and judge somebody. It's not my job, and if the University had decided that keeping Petrino was acceptable, then fine, keep him. We can't regulate morality.
Gerry Sandusky was a law enforcement matter, and completely unrelated to athletics, other than Sandusky was an employee in the athletic department. The problem with intervening, and I said this at the time, was that Mark Emmert created a new precedent that while allowed under the bylaws of the NCAA, set precedent by saying the NCAA could step in anytime and impose punishment. If they did it consistently moving forward, I was okay with it. But as usual, they didn't, and all Emmert did was hammer Penn State to make the media happy. Who suddenly turned on him when he did what they had been screaming at him to do. And Emmert hasn't lifted a finger to hammer anyone else since.
As for Auburn, I think that situation might not have happened in our association, but if it did, we've laid out a pretty decent set of consequences--Gene Chizik banished to the Chattahoochie State Community Colleges of the world, possible prosecution of the boosters or whoever paid off the Newton's, and Auburn getting relegated to the Sun Belt.
But you know what? I'm retired--those are your problems now. The walleye are on the bite, and Jeeves is outside with the limo running, waiting to take me back to my cabin on the lake. I'm out, so bring us home, Jesse.
Honestly, taking it home this time is pretty easy. Your best point has been consistent for a while now, and that is this: we can't legislate morality. We can legislate good business practices that keep things fair, rules that keep kids from being exploited under the guise of a few dollars, and rules that have meaning to schools that disregard either. It is possible to punish a school, but that means you must be okay with the blowback from angry alums and such. These things must be consistent, and you must find a way to explain that you mean business. While we harp on Emmert and Co., the reality is their job is no longer about keeping things consistent so much as it is keeping the audience (us) happy and the gravy train rolling. My gut instinct tells me Auburn will live through this crisis in the same way Oregon lived through theirs and until we care about something other than the larger financial industry that is NCAA Football today, this will be a story we write for years to come.
Nonetheless, at least we have figured out that it can be done. Oh, and like we have said - we definitely should be in charge... and have that private jet.