Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott — or is it still the Pac-10 until this summer? — sounded flippant this week when he was asked about the NCAA issues facing Oregon’s football program.
“There’s plenty of issues out there affecting almost every major national program. It’s par for the course these days.”
That might not be best message for a commish to be sending. Some might take it to mean, “Ah, everybody does it,” a line of thinking the NCAA would surely frown upon.
But that doesn’t mean his comments aren’t correct. In the past couple of years, the NCAA has investigated, looked into or punished the following schools:
North Carolina, Florida State, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Auburn, Ohio State, Oregon, Connecticut, Kansas, Southern Cal, etc, etc. The list goes on.
Why so many big name schools on the watch list? Three reasons:
1. The NCAA rulebook is incredibly thick.
That’s a common complaint. Unfortunately, it would be near impossible to thin it out. Let’s take the current photo of John Pelphrey that’s making headlines as an example. One might be tempted to say, “Why can’t a coach bump into a recruit and have his picture taken?” Fair enough. But if you take that rule out of the book, what’s to prevent a coach from having a three-course meal with a junior prospect? Or from dropping by a sophomore’s birthday party?
Each rule in the NCAA tome has been defined, redefined, explained, clarified and broken down into dozens of sub-rules and bylaws. To thin out the rulebook would likely require a complete tossing out of the rulebook. That’s not going to happen. College athletics may be dirty now, but the idea of taking an anything goes, wild West approach is worse.
2. There is more money to be made through college sports today.
Programs, coaches and players (when they reach the pros) make millions and millions of dollars. Naturally, more folks want to get a piece of that action. (“A Piece of the Action” is the best “Star Trek” episode ever, by the way.) Agents, runners for agents, so-called street agents and “scouting services” all want to latch on to the next superstar athlete and his future earnings.
Those folks can get cash on the backside from the player when he reaches the pros. Or they can get cash under the table for steering a player to a certain program. Even parents — we’re talking to you, Cecil Newton — have their hands out.
The cash is greener than ever and everyone knows it. Mo’ money, mo’ problems.
3. There are too many of us in the media.
That’s the big one. That’s the key to all of the new accusations and allegations. The secondary violations that are treated like criminal acts. The endless roar of people being labeled as liars, cheaters and frauds because one act can undo a lifetime’s work. Expect the above list of troubled schools to get longer in the future. With everyone in America having access to talk radio, a website or even a messageboard, every tiny rumor can now become a national story. Whether that rumor is true or not — and now we’re talking to you, Scott Moore, John Bond and Bill Bell.
With rival fans now digging into each others’ programs, it’s hard to imagine a day when things are “cleaned up.” More likely, we’ll be bombarded with more stories and more accusations which will just give all of college athletics an even dirtier reputation.
Some might think all the media coverage — and fan coverage via the media — would actually help to clean things up. “You can’t cheat if you know you’re going to get caught.” Ah, but it’s pretty tough to not break some of the NCAA’s rules. Back to Pelphrey, he supposedly had a mother send her son to stand next to him for a photograph. Rather than shoving the kid out of the way, stealing the camera, or sprinting in the other direction, Pelphrey smiled for the camera. And now his photo and the word “VIOLATION” are on every sports site in the country. Small violation, big hit on his reputation.
Final views: The NCAA’s rulebook is thick, but slippery slope arguments require it to be hefty. Things are dirtier now in college athletics, yes, because there’s more money to be made… but the unreal surge in media has made things look even worse than they really are. We hear about violations today — and we hear about them enough to fill a 24-hour news cycle — that we never would have heard about 15 years ago.
We don’t see any reason to believe things will be cleaned up in the future. Even if the NCAA creates small improvements in the compliance arena, we in the media — fan sites included — will react with such zeal to any new accusation that we will continue to make college sports’ problems seem larger and larger.
Sadly, just wait and see.