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Barnhart Has Five Tips To Fix College Football

From one end of the country to the other it’s been a scandalous start to College Football 2011.  Cam Newton, Willie Lyles, Jim Tressel, John Junker and Stanley McClover have all become household names… and not for the right reasons.

Longtime college football writer Tony Barnhart — who has now taken up residence at — believes college football has reached a point of no return when it comes to cheating, lying, and swindling.  In his learned view, there are five steps that should be taken to clean up the sport before it’s too late.

You can read his recommendations in full right here, but we’ll give you the gist below along with our own views:

1.  “Find a way for the top 60 to 70 schools that play major college football to work independently from the NCAA.”

Barnhart feels the sport has become too big for the NCAA to oversee it and, if necessary, the biggest schools should strike out on their own. 

Our view: Such a move would require an awful lot of planning and negotiating.  Everything from money splits to recruiting rules to scheduling would need to be meted out and agreed upon by the trailblazing schools.  It might be easier for the NCAA to simply reorganize itself.  As was shown by HBO’s “Real Sports” last week, several NCAA officers make salaries in the half-million dollar range.  Split up some of that money, hire some enforcement crews who work solely on the college football beat, and create a separate NCAA wing that handles only football 24/7/365 and you might have a quicker fix than an all-out break from the NCAA.  Maybe.

2.  “Create a commissioner of college football.”

Barnhart — who credits fellow CBS’er Tim Brando with the idea — feels only one person with ultimate power can rein in all the cheating that’s going on these days.

Our view: This position could simply go to the head of the new NCAA football wing that we proposed above.  But if there’s a split from the NCAA, obviously, someone will need to be in control.  So we have no problems with the Barnhart/Brando proposal.

In a perfect world, NCAA president Mark Emmert could act as college football’s czar.  But at present he’s expected to watch over every division of every sport under the NCAA umbrella.  He doesn’t have the time to be Mr. Football.

3.  “Freshmen will be declared ineligible.”

Man, oh, man, some folks just had heart attacks.  Recruiting gurus and their followers just grabbed their chests.  A few coaches just fell over in their chairs. 

In Barnhart’s view, “There is a whole host of pathologies that are created by a recruiting process that tells 18-year-old children they are stars and should be treated (and paid) like one.”

Our view:  While Barnhart admits that “this will never happen” in an 85-scholarship universe, if the biggest football schools broke off from the NCAA as he suggests, there’s nothing to say that schools would have to keep using an 85-man limit.  They could make the limit 100 and then declare freshmen ineligible. 

Our only concern about this proposal would be from a legal standpoint.  Until 1972, freshmen were ineligible.  But the world is much more litigious in 2011 than it was pre-’72.  It’s not hard to imagine someone — or many someones — suing for their child’s right to be eligible as a freshman.

4.  “Football scholarships become five-year commitments by the school.  In exchange for giving up freshman eligibility, the student-athlete will get a five-year guaranteed scholarship if he stays in good academic standing and doesn’t get in trouble with the law.”

Barnhart would also nuke red-shirting, gray-shirting and oversigning.

Our view: Amen and Hallelujah.  College programs make tens of millions of dollars off of football players.  The least they can do is guarantee a scholarship. 

College coaches makes millions of dollars off of football players.  It should be their job to evaluate talent and develop it.  If a coach does a poor job of evaluating a player’s talent — or character — that should be on the coach, not the player.  College coaches should not have the ability to reshape their rosters each offseason like NFL general managers.  They’re not toying with professionals’ lives, they’re impacting the futures of teenagers in many cases. 

Also, if coaches knew they would be locked into the kids they signed for five years, they would likely work harder to find the types of kids who belong on college campuses in the first place.  (As opposed to those who might become involved in an armed burglary ring, for example.)

5.  “Change the scholarship to include the full cost of attendance.”

Barnhart believes a “stipend of several thousand dollars” — like those that go to some top academic scholarship winners — would end the debate over college players needing spending cash.

Our view: If the goal is to actually provide cash for the players, then this suggestion makes sense.  Let them have enough cash to travel home when necessary, to go out on a date, to buy some clothes.  That’s all good.

But for those who believe such a stipend would help cut down on cheating, we strongly disagree.  There will always be boosters — and some coaches — who look to gain an edge by going above and beyond what everyone else is doing.

Whether you agree with all, some or none of Barnhart’s suggestions, it’s clear that the NCAA has reached a point in terms of PR that it must start taking some serious actions.

When stories of pay-for-play schemes, street agents and dishonest coaches overshadow such topics as the BCS championship race, the Heisman Trophy and the All-American team, it’s a sad day for college football.  And that day is already upon us.

Hopefully, some of the people charged with protecting the game — the presidents and athletic directors at the nation’s biggest football powers — are already discussing some of the ideas Barnhart put for today.  It’s time to stop wringing hands over the all the issues facing the game and time to start finding solutions to those problems.




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