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If The NCAA Must Go, What Should Take Its Place?

gfx - honest opinion“Which is better: To be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?”

Some of you might recognize that quote from the movie, “The Patriot.”  In reality, a clergyman named Mather Byles made that comment just as the original Patriots began to grapple with England for this nation’s independence.  A loyalist, his point was clear: What guarantee was there that Americans in power would be better than an English king in power?

Lucky for all of us, a number of brilliant men sent to convene in Philadelphia before, during and after the war were able to create a government whose potential is still the greatest on the planet.

Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be many Franklins, Jeffersons, Adams or Hancocks kicking around in sports bars today.

So while Byles’ fears regarding American rule proved to be unfounded, his sentiment can and should be applied to the current efforts by, well, everyone to tear down the NCAA.

If the NCAA must go, what should take its place?

This isn’t to defend the NCAA, mind you.  It is absolutely a bloated, bureaucratic mess.  Small schools have a hand in telling much larger schools how they should operate.  The legislative arm moves at a snail’s pace much of the time, only to race forward and completely overshoot its mark at others.

Armed with an investigative/enforcement staff that is too small and lacks subpoena power, the NCAA is unable to fully police college athletics.  Yet when the Penn State scandal occurred, the body completely ignored its jurisdiction and for the first time pounded away at a school for transgressions that had nothing to do with athletics, cheating or eligibility issues… which up until last summer had been the entire purview of the NCAA.

As we’ve seen this week thanks to ESPN’s Jay Bilas, the same NCAA that prevents college athletes from selling their jerseys and autographs has been — wait for it — selling their jerseys and autographs on its official website.  There was even a Penn State/Joe Paterno shirt for sale.

So, yes, the NCAA is too poorly set up to operate efficiently.  Reforms are needed.  Major reforms are needed.

But many hope to destroy the organization altogether.  College athletics’ governing body is nothing if not under siege at the moment.  (And Mark Emmert doesn’t appear to be Steven Seagal.)  Assuming the NCAA were to go the way of the triceratops, what system would take its place?

The first question one must answer is this: Should the amateur model be maintained?  Many college sports fans did not attend the schools whose teams they support.  They — and even a few actual graduates — seem to view college teams as teams only.  Forget the academic part of this thing, these are semi-pro teams in their view.

Should, then, schools simply run and support semi-pro football and basketball teams for the purpose of promoting themselves?  Schools could either pay their players or create partnerships with corporations who would pay their athletes.  The Alabama football team would be the equivalent of Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR ride.  Slap a Lowe’s sticker on the side of their helmets and let ‘em go out and work as an advertisement for Lowe’s and the University of Alabama.

Sound good to you?  Even then there would have to be some legislative body to create rules and enforce them.  That body would eventually become just as unpopular as all the other current rulers of the sports world — the NCAA, MLB commissioner Bud Selig, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, etc.

OK, so what about the “halfway” plans some have tossed out?  For instance, why not just go with the Olympic model and allow athletes to hire agents and sign endorsement deals?  That sounds good in theory, but the reality is it would open the biggest loophole for cheating in the history of college athletics.

Would Phil Knight, chairman of the board at Nike and a major Oregon booster, not simply offer million-dollar deals to kids if they signed with his alma mater?  Would Fred Smith, founder, chairman and CEO at FedEx, not offer endorsement deals to players weighing his beloved Memphis program against other schools?

And if agents are involved, when would they get involved?  Would they begin to target high school kids for their signatures?  Would that be in the best interest of young athletes?  You already know the answers to both of those last two questions.

There are some who believe the NCAA should simply allow schools to provide stipends or full-cost-of-tuition scholarships for athletes.  In terms of aiding the players, that’s probably the best, safest approach.  But it won’t cut down on cheating in the least.  More money would be nice, but a lot more money would be nicer.  If athletes were given X, cheaters would offer Y.  If they were given Y, cheaters would offer Z.

Also, if coaches like South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier had their way, football players would be paid an additional sum for each game they play (though laughably Spurrier refuses to call his a pay-for-play plan).  If the day comes when football players are finally paid or given a big, healthy stipend, it won’t be long before female athletes and athletes in non-revenue sports cry foul.

For all the hate being leveled at the NCAA “system,” at least it is a system.  It might not be perfect or even close to perfect but neither are any of the alternative plans that have been discussed to date.  And the majority of people aren’t even talking about alternatives, they’re just against the NCAA because it’s in a position of authority and no one likes the guy who sets and enforces the rules.

In truth, it’s not that hard to make the argument that any government — even an imperfect one — is better than anarchy.  So before the NCAA is overthrown and guillotined in the street, some of those people calling for a revolution should put on their tricorn hats and attempt to dream up a system that would function more efficiently than the NCAA.

Instead of searching the NCAA’s website for autographed jerseys, perhaps Bilas — a learned man who may well be able to serve as this particular revolution’s Adams or Jefferson — should put forth his own detailed plan for a better system.  Everyone has written of how the NCAA stinks.  We all get that.  But no one to date has shared plans for a new system that won’t have just as many flaws.

If the NCAA must go, what should take its place?

Without a good backup plan at the ready, the implosion of the NCAA could leave fans, sportswriters, talking heads and college presidents quoting Burt Reynolds from the movie “Deliverance.”

“The law?  Ha!  The law?  What law?”



Under my deal with the schools acting as the players's agents. If a player took money outside of the school, not only would they be in violation of the NCAA regulations, but also would be breaking their contract with the school. It would open up the player to having their scholarship canceled and possibly be opened up to lawsuits from damages caused to the school for financial loss from being suspended.


I propose the simple solution of allowing the schools to become the players' agents. All endorsement deals, signature signing, etc. has to run through the schools' athletic department. This applies to the heisman winning QB, the star BB player, or the hotshot on the women's swimming team. (with the growth of sports, it can happen). Besides, the most valuable athlete at Baylor last year was Griner, womans' basketball. The NCAA can set guidelines on the deals, and all deals would have to be public and on file with the NCAA.  If a player excepts money outside of the school's AD (under the table), he/she would still be ineligible. Then set the penalties so high, that it would not be worth it. Some schools would have a huge advantage, they do now. The stipend is nice, but it would have to apply equally to all athletes. However this solution would reward the worth of the player. Would it complicate recruiting? yes. Would you have to have larger staffs in order to manage this issue? Yes. Could it work, yes.


The NCAA does not share one important characteristic with our Democracy, a ballot box.  If it did Mark Emmert would be long gone.  The institution is a rudderless ship, not only because of Emmert's leadership, but because it is ruled by an oligarchy of College Administrators who's primary focus is academics and dollars and not athletics.  In short, they just don't get it.  The list just gets bigger, Miami blown investigation, Penn State debacle, North Carolina academics,and on and on.  It is not hard to think of it as irrelevant either, $20.00 water and hose fine, selling Reggie Bush autographs and JoePa gear. Most o the college "scandals" center around athletes and money, Manziel, Cam Newton, etc., what a surprise.  The response, we'll look at other models and approaches and maybe do something in the next century.  While I agree it is important to the future of college athletics, an overhaul would do some real good.  A restructuring of the D1 Board of Directors would be a good place to start, how about 50% AD's instead of 100% Presidents and Chancellors?  Shore up the investigative arm and find a way to give it some teeth rather than wringing your hands.  Get consistent.  Not very tall orders, but seem to be for the bunch in charge.


The problem isn't as much the NCAA and its administration as the basic concept of higher education operating as minor leagues for athletes trying to get to "the next level". For many of the better athletes participating in intercollegiate athletics, the phrase "student athlete" just isn't appropriate. Better structure and administration of college athletics would be helpful, but a perfect structure perfectly administered would not be able to fix the core problem of non-student athletes being put in a system designed for students who would like to participate in sports representing their schools while they work toward a degree.


@Bootheel Not certain I agree with your basic premise. There is a ballot box for the membership. We're just not members.


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