Yesterday, the NCAA started down a path towards enacting what they would call, "major change," to the system we currently see. In a proposal that will now go back to the member organizations, the most interesting change includes a piece of legislation that would give autonomy to the 'Big 5' conferences allowing them to make more common-sense rules for their economic level. Simply put, those conferences could enact legislation - like full cost scholarships, better stipends, etc. - that would affect the schools in the Big 5, but schools who couldn't afford such things would not have to follow by the same rules. In theory, it's a big step forward for the NCAA, but let's be honest, this all seems a little sketchy considering a certain impending vote at Northwestern, right?
[Ed Note: I highly recommend clicking that article above for more in-depth looks at what is going on with the reform. My ranting is really light on the exact details and SBN is killing it on coverage. Oh, and because facts and stuff.]
Look, I don't want to sound all negative and such, but even with the proposed, "representation," that the board has come up with, the bottom line is that this is a last-ditch effort to maintain power and control over an awkward system that has been broken for well over 25 years. It is a system that is propped up by major TV Dollars, marketing deals, and trademarked properties that are allowed to profit - quite literally - on the backs of student-athletes who have very little say in their own well-being or future.
Moreover, in enacting this fast-tracked change, the fundamental issue with this entire system remains - the NCAA profits, the student-athletes get punished when they try to profit, and Mark Emmert says really awkward things in interviews. It is increasingly obvious that the economics of scholarships is not only far from commiserate with profits derived from the major revenue generating sports, but even more insulting that a group can continue to argue that it is. The NCAA cares more about rules and money than they do its athletes, and public sentiment is starting to back the students up. Of course, it always helps when the NCAA shows that the only times it enacts rules, it usually is only helpful to their own organizational power.
Case in point? Take Sami Spenner, a University of Nebraska at Omaha track star who set the American Collegiate record in the Pentathlon. She was denied eligibility to compete in the National Championships because of some rule that schools moving to D1 cannot participate in championships without a waiver. Their answer to her when she asked to get a waiver? Well, why don't you just transfer somewhere that will let you compete in the championship? Because honestly, the best thing for a student athlete is to absolutely disrupt their college academic path, move to a school where your coaching is completely different and your friends you have built are none existent, and do this because these are students first.
This is not to say that the NCAA doesn't have their reasons - which I don't necessarily get, honestly - but this particular story points to a larger problem. As an organization, they are stuck in a place where they have only bylaw power, but enough resources to do what they want, when they want. They know there are problems, but real change would give away the power and money they have built. So what do they do? Promise reform and tell everyone that they got this because they really do care about the student-athletes. We just have to believe them. Meanwhile reform ends up being just a band-aid to a bigger problem that is they have lost sight of what it takes to actually legislate for the well-being of the students.
I love college sports. I follow Nebraska in almost everything they compete in, and I think there is legitimate enough research that shows sports can and is a net positive for a University, but if we're exploiting kids to the tune of millions of dollars monthly, you probably aren't going to see college sports stay a thing for very long. Organizations that focus on rules for the sake of rules, and forget that their lifeblood are the people on the front lines are destined to fail. Especially ones as high profile as the NCAA. These kids aren't dumb. Public opinion is quickly siding with those kids as well. Sure, you might keep selling out stadiums, but the message of screwing over students cannot last forever.
For one more anecdote, let's talk about something that just happened to break today. I just read about the insane reasoning behind Mitch McGary going to the NBA. Yahoo! reported this morning that McGary is going pro because if he stayed at Michigan, he faced a one-year suspension due to a first offense drug test failure for marijuana. This is obviously a touchy subject for many people, but the fact of the matter is that this is just another show of how inept the NCAA really is.
Right now, two states have completely legalized the use of marijuana and a ridiculous amount of states are in various levels of decriminalization. Moreover, it was a first offense issue. Can you name another first offense issue that forces a ban for a year? As I said before, if the NCAA was truly about the student-athlete, they would be working to determine what happened contextually (McGary's story seems pretty normal in college) and if they believe what he did was wrong, they would want him to stay in college where he would have a greater chance to mature. I'm not saying he should have been in that situation in the first place and under our current set of laws, some level of suspension was probably about right, but you mean to tell me that a year makes sense? Like I said, what else would the NCAA ban you from competition for a year? Physical Abuse? DUI? MIP? The reality is that it was just another sign of how out-of-touch the NCAA is with the realities of helping kids. In an effort to show organizational control, they looked like the buffoons they are.
The NCAA is going to scratch and claw at everything to stay relevant, and while I hope that reform means real change, rulings like the McGary case - and even more the Sami Spenner case - make me think that reform is fancy way of saying everything will be the same thing. I may not have a perfect solution, but starting from scratch seems about right these days. With that in mind, let's all chat about the NCAA. Seems like a good way to spend a Friday. Be nice out there...