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Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Bad Week for Amateur Athletics

If there was any doubt that college sports are now all about money, rather than students engaging in wholesome and character-building extracurricular activities, this week should put that to rest.  First, we had the spectacle of schools leaving their traditional rivals to get better deals with other conferences.  Nebraska is going to the Big 10 (Big 12 now?  It's available!), Colorado is going to the Pac-10, and -- in a move that would swamp all the others -- Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and OSU are rumored to be going to the Pac-10 too, with Texas A&M using their leverage with the SEC to sit on the fence.  The conference system is melting down in front of our eyes for one reason: TV contracts for football games.  That's it.  Of course, these changes will apply to all the other sports as well, so when OSU tennis players have to fly up to U-Dub for an early Saturday match, they can thank the football program.

The NCAA is bravely trying to maintain the amateur approach.  It issued severe sanctions against USC for rule infractions involving its football and basketball teams.  Of course, many of these sanctions will be prospective but result from the actions of coaches and players long gone.  (Other than the AD, who maintains that the sanctions "are nothing but a lot of envy.")  And what are the sanctions for?  College athletes trying to get a little money. professional representation, a house for their parents, a car to drive in.  It may sound like I'm condoning this behavior, which I'm not -- rules are rules.  But take a step back and look at the big picture.  Pete Caroll made $4.4 million as USC's coach before he left for professional sports.  Mack Brown is pulling in $5.1 million as UT's AD coach.  Buying a HUM-V seems kind of small in comparison.

The NCAA said this in justifying the severity of the sanctions:

The actions of those professional agents and their associates, with the knowledge and acquiescence of the athletes, struck at the heart of the NCAA's Principle of Amateurism, which states that participation in intercollegiate athletics should be "motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental, and social benefits to be derived."

Of course, it said this with respect to the conference realignment:

Much has been and will be written regarding conference realignment. Some “experts” have questioned where the NCAA is in this process. The answer is the NCAA is exactly where it should be—not directly in the discussion but standing ready to work with the conferences when realignment is finalized.

* * *

The NCAA’s core mission — to maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of higher education and to ensure the student-athlete is at the forefront of everything we do remains unchanged. We believe that is a mission shared with conferences and our member institutions. As the conference landscape unfolds in the near future, the NCAA will be an active partner with our member schools and conferences to ensure maximum participation and education opportunities and a fair playing field for more than 400,000 student-athletes who compete in NCAA sports.

It's not just the conference system that's melting down -- it's the whole facade.  Football and basketball are no longer college sports; they are professional sports with strange and archaic restrictions on the compensation of their players.  The system is crashing down all around -- it's only a matter of time.

Posted by Matt Bodie on June 12, 2010 at 09:54 AM in Sports | Permalink


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I know this is in the realm of fantasy, but wouldn't it be nice if, as fall out from all this realignment, the academically serious schools still playing D-I football finally just said, "No more". No more ridiculous expenditures on big time college football, no more semi-professional college athletes, no more hypocrisy.

I am thinking of Duke, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Rice, Army, Navy, AFA.

Perhaps add Northwestern, Cal, Boston College, UVa and UNC.

And then, and I am really dreaming, Notre Dame.

In this fantasy, all these schools would form one or two additional D-II conferences and compete with the Ivy League, Patriot League and Southern Conference in an expanded D-II. Given the academic prestige of the newly expanded division, perhaps some additional smaller D-I schools would develop the courage to drop D-I football.

Dream on...

Posted by: Frode Jensen | Jun 13, 2010 10:21:14 PM

There are more than a few echoes of Olympic shamateurism in there, in particular ice hockey in the 1970s and 1980s. You don't think that the NCAA (et al.) might benefit from some historical knowledge, do you?

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Jun 13, 2010 9:36:04 AM

Thanks for the correction. I had mistakenly thought that I remembered Brown doing more than just coaching for his $5.1 million.

And just to keep the conversation going: what should be done about it? One answer is to let the universities essentially have professional teams with which they are affiliated. After all, the New York Yankees players aren't from New York. Perhaps we should just let each university sign players for their teams without restricting their ability to compensate. And of course let players join the NFL as soon as a team wants them. If we stick with the current system, then we need caps on the other end: restrictions on the pay for university coaches and administrators. Then try to come up with a creative way of funneling the money to good use. I just don't see how much longer we can keep this cognitive dissonance going.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Jun 12, 2010 4:50:12 PM

No substantive comment, but one tiny correction: Mack Brown is the Head Football Coach at Texas; the athletic director is DeLoss Dodds. (On Brown, see http://www.mackbrown-texasfootball.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/brown_mack00.html. On Dodds, see http://www.texassports.com/staffdir/dodds-deloss-bio.html.)

Posted by: anon | Jun 12, 2010 1:45:52 PM

As much as I bleed maize and blue (heart be still), my head says you are right about football and basketball at a certain group of D-I schools. BTW, it's probably also true about hockey at a few schools too. The strange and archaic restrictions have to do with 19th century upper class notions about professionalism - whether it be in sports, academics, or business. (You get a glimpse of this in Chariots of Fire - the fact that Harold Abrahams has a coach makes him a professional; as John Gielgud as the Head of Trinity tells him, "you've adopted a professional attitude." The sign of a gentleman was effortless; hence, "gentlemen's Cs.")

Again, I say this ruefully as a devoted sports fan: they have an amazing ability to induce double think. My three examples are the Masters (I love the golf; I hate the institution), the name of the professional football team in the District of Columbia, and the logo of the American League baseball team in Ohio.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jun 12, 2010 10:34:00 AM

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