Down with the NCAA

December 21, 2012

The NCAA has long been an absurd institution.  It is a totalitarian regime that holds absolute power over the lives of thousands of student athletes.  The NCAA acts as judge, jury, and executioner in all aspects of college sports.  It behaves with complete latitude and no fear of oversight or accountability.  Everything from the eligibility of individual players to long-term financial and competitive sanctions against entire universities falls under NCAA jurisdiction.  The NCAA has been given too large a mandate with far too little supervision and it has responded with what can charitably be described as tragic inconsistency.  I prefer to call it gross hypocrisy.  Either way something needs to change.

There are literally thousands of examples of misguided or unfair rulings by the NCAA in the past 20 years, but their behavior recently has sent me over the edge.  UNC is in the midst of a decade long academic scandal where by the university’s own admission athletes have received unfair advantages in the classroom.  This seems to be a cut and dry case that based on precedent requires sanctions and probably the forfeiture of a few wins.  Instead the NCAA has announced as recently as yesterday that UNC appears to have broken no rules.

By failing to act on the UNC cheating scandal the NCAA has abdicated its responsibility to protect the integrity of college athletics.  By ignoring the institutionalized cheating the NCAA has made a mockery of the “student-athlete” label that we still attach to college players.  This is bad enough, but in fairness to the NCAA this label has been a joke for years.  There is a very legitimate argument to be made that this sort of academic advantage is given to athletes at nearly every school and the NCAA is merely accepting that college athlete is no longer synonymous with student-athlete.  I have a problem with this logic, but it is at least somewhat reasonable.

The problem is that while the NCAA is turning a blind eye to academic fraud they are cracking down harder than ever on any sort of illegal benefits given to players.  Just this season alone, UCLA Freshman Shabazz Mohammad, two Indiana freshmen and Texas point guard Myck Kabongo have been suspended for part or all of the season because they took improper benefits.  These benefits usually take the form of meals or plane tickets provided and in many cases are comically small amounts of money.  The Indiana case is particularly absurd as the two players, Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, were the recipients of goods from a legitimate non-profit organization.  They were suspended because the administrator of the non-profit gave 185 dollars to the Indiana Athletic Department in 1986 and is thus considered a “booster” and forbidden to give anything to recruits.

The NCAA throws the book at players when they have the audacity to try and gain any sort of financial advantage from their athletic abilities but gives coaches and athletic directors a slap on the wrist, or in the case of UNC, a free pass when they break the rules.  This double standard exposes the true hypocrisy of the NCAA.  Every decision made by the NCAA has two goals; maximize profit for the schools and ensure that the players who bring in the money receive no share of it.  The old argument that college athletes are paid in the form of a free education become more ludicrous with each move by the NCAA.  Every change in the college sports landscape from expanding the NCAA tournament to conference realignment has increased revenues and decreased the importance of academics.  If athletes at a prestigious institution like UNC are the beneficiaries of academic fraud to retain eligibility we can only imagine what goes on other places.

The ideal solution to this problem is for the NCAA to dramatically alter its course and begin to emphasize the student portion of the term student-athlete.  This process starts with emphatically cracking down on academic violations, but it goes further than that.  If the NCAA is serious about legitimizing itself as an academic organization than there need to be serious sanctions for poor graduation rates.  Schools like UConn, with an incredible 11% graduation rate, need to be banned from postseason play until they return to acceptable levels.

Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world.  The NCAA will continue chasing profits at the expense of academics.  We have essentially gone too far down this road to turn back.  What the NCAA can do is have the balls to call a spade a spade. They need to admit that they are running a professional sports league and begin treating their players accordingly.  This includes paying them, but also giving them some sort of voice in the decision making process.  In professional sports athletes have unions that protect them from abuses of power.  College athletes have no such protections and they are repeatedly boned by the NCAA.  It is time to end NCAA hegemony and give the players a financial stake, and more importantly a voice in college sports.



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