It’s absolute chaos in college sports these days. Whether that’s a good problem probably depends on your sympathy for athletes or administrators, I guess.
The NCAA is without leadership – and yes, I can hear you snickering and asking, “What else is new?” President Mark Emmert is officially a short-timer, but the organizing body abdicated leadership a year ago after the Supreme Court declared amateurism dead by unanimous vote.
And true to the adage that nature abhors a vacuum, the name, image and likeness revolution that was meant to help balance the scales of athletes currently on campus has been taken up by recall collectives all throughout major conferences. NIL has been turned into a recruiting tool — a hammer, in fact — and every scary vision that in years past has led to another run through the NCAA rulebook seems to be coming true.
(It’s really no different than what’s been going on at the SEC all along. It’s just above any board, even if not scrupulously honest.)
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors on Monday approved guidelines designed to clarify “the intersection between recruiting activities and the name, image and likeness environment.” The suspicion here is that the main effect of said “guidance” will be to skyrocket billable hours for lawyers on both sides. The people who came up with the collective concept knew exactly what they were doing and what flaws to exploit.
Meanwhile, recent tweaks to the NCAA constitution appear to make it more likely that the Power Five schools and conferences, given greater autonomy over their own affairs, will at some point drop all pretense and part ways with the rest of the Division I. The only thing stopping them right now might be the March Madness TV contract, which runs until 2032.
Ah, yes, good times in intercollegiate athletics. And how do these NCAA calls to Congress for an antitrust exemption work?
In fact, the disorder is an opportunity for serious college athletic reform that not only benefits schools and administrators, but also athletes and fans. The only problem is who makes the call? Congress? Chancellors and presidents? Who is destined to be the new NCAA president? (Uh, not so fast.)
Oh shit. I’m going to volunteer. Here are some suggestions, and feel free to submit your own.
• Hire a commissioner (or more than one)
Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and assistant professor of clinical history at Arizona State, had this idea a few weeks ago, shortly after Emmert announced he was quitting: why not hire two people to run the NCAA? “An expert in US higher education policy (with only a tangential relationship to college sports) and a front office manager in English/European National League soccer,” she tweeted.
What if the next NCAA prez was 2 jobs, 2 hires? An expert on US higher education policy (with only a tangential relationship to college sports) and a front office manager of English/European National League football. And I want to work for them. Prefer this to internal industry hiring
— Victoria Jackson (@HistoryRunner) April 26, 2022
Bingo. You would have the best of both worlds, a sensitivity to the academic mission and a solid understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the sports sphere. (Among other things, hiring someone with European football experience would fit perfectly with my proposal last fall to introduce promotion and relegation to college football.)
But leadership, whether one person or many, should supersede and oversee conference commissioners. One of the biggest recent problems in college sports has been that a leadership vacuum at the top has allowed conferences and individual schools to grab whatever they can without caring about the big picture, and that has never been more evident than in the variance of conference responses. to COVID-19 in 2020. It takes a commissioner-like authority at the top to put the good of the game first, and right now we’re nowhere near that.
It may even be necessary to liquidate the NCAA and start over, with a new organization, a new structure and a new mission that is fairer to all participants.
• Reverse realignment. OK, the pro/rel proposal for football was admittedly unrealistic but had a serious purpose: the ascendant wannabes should at least have a seat at the table with the big kids. But there are other ways to create this. Meanwhile, the spasms of conference realignment over the past decade and a half have taken away what was once college sports’ greatest charm, conferences of regional rivals with a shared history and old grudges.
Why is West Virginia in the Big XII? Or Missouri (and possibly Texas and Oklahoma) in the SEC, or Boston College and Syracuse on the Atlantic coast? And, to be honest, it’s been over a decade but I’m still not used to Utah and Colorado in the Pac-12. This, again, is a case of individual conferences grabbing what they can.
• Take care of the players who are on campus. It might be a needle-threading exercise, but the hugely positive development of allowing athletes to be compensated for their names, images and likenesses has also stoked college administrators’ worst fears about recruiting, as shown below. above. But it is reasonable to insist that athletes be on campus before negotiating NIL contracts; that anyone entering the transfer portal respects the same limitation; and that rules prohibiting individual (or collective) boosters from recruiting or offering benefits to prospects are enforced.
In the meantime, Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey might have had the best response to his fellow coaches’ criticisms: “…everyone should shut up and adapt.”
Oh, there are so many more issues, more than we can address in a single column: gender equity, scholarship limits, Olympic sports, the future of I-AAA institutions ( excluding football) in an increasingly stratified NCAA. The need for reform is immense on so many levels.
In the meantime, how about this radical idea? Completely separate football from the NCAA, to be its own entity with its own purpose, its own organizational structure, its own commissioner…and with a commitment to pay players, directly.
Does that sound radical to you? We will have more on the subject on Friday.