(Publisher’s note- The RM’s intrepid sportsguy, Nate Schlatter, is taking the week off. It is left to me to fill in on Sports Wednesday; but you all know that I can’t resist a little politics with my sports…MC)
The NCAA has long been the entity charged with governing the bulk of intercollegiate athletics. Over the last 3 decades, and driven by the rise of cable sports, the job of governance has gotten to be quite a challenge. The organization, which is not a government entity, has been sued and slandered, conned and cheated, mistreated and manipulated. But the NCAA has done itself the greatest damage. In its rush to integrity; in the very push to safeguard the pure motives of college sports, the NCAA has compromised its own purpose.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, through its emphasis on recruiting rules and scholarship totals, chose to focus on fair play. They paid little heed to the notion of the student athlete, focusing rather on the notion of the amateur athlete. Whether or not a coach or booster provides extra benefits has become a central issue in college sports, a face that represents a monumental departure from the system itself. It is, by definition, important for the athletes to be in college. It is, by definition, critical that the participants be, in fact, student-athletes. But even on that score, the NCAA has fallen woefully short of making their own grade. The debate over student status led to ill-considered focus on the scores of standardized tests. At a time when policies designed to protect the academic potential of athletes were falling away (ie. the non-participation of freshman rule), the NCAA was placing the focus on what might or might not have happened in high school.
The modern recruiting system is a product of the NCAA’s focus on recruiting rules. The modern exploitation of athletes at the major college level is a product of major conferences, TV networks, and the egos and fantasies of failed ex-players with money. You and I commonly hear them referred to as boosters. I submit that we need to reimagine the whole system. That process, in my opinion, must begin with the rules of participation and the investigative focus needed to enforce the structure. You see, I don’t care whether a player is paid to play, paid to show up, or paid to carry a clipboard. My only concern is that the player attend and diligently pursue his or her education while they are student-athletes.
Why is it that we frown on college athletes being paid for their efforts. We have sat idly by as performance enhancing drugs have permeated freshman level high school athletics. We have no moral qualms about living out our fantasies through these amateurs; no hesitations regarding the sacrifice they make to generate billions in advertising and merchandising revenue. Only if you are in favor of eliminating televised games for college sports will I entertain your moralistic and shallow notions of the ethics of paying amateurs. What I want is for these kids to get in school and earn an education. For a fraction of the effort we spend today hunting down boosters, chasing leads on payroll checks, snapping spy photos, and running the gossip gauntlet, we could ensure that our student-athletes spend their first year getting up to speed in college (if they are indeed behind), and making sure that they stay on course.
Individual institutions bear the responsibility alone for their credibility; let them decide who to admit, then the NCAA can pursue techniques to ensure that, post-admittance, these kids are getting their work done. The participants in NCAA events are all adults who have signed on to play college sports; let’s stop treating them like kids who are around to work for our enjoyment.
The Rational Middle is listening…