by Kent Sterling
My head is spinning. The torrent of stories about schools, athletes, and agents breaking NCAA rules just will not stop. Everyday brings at least one bombshell, and the best of the bunch is a book by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian called “The System” that will be released next Tuesday.
News of massive violations is breaking so fast, I literally cannot read it quickly enough to get to the bottom of the stack.
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Today’s story is courtesy of Yahoo Sports reporters Rand Getlin and Charles Robinson. It asserts that five SEC football players received impermissible payments from agents through an intermediary. They appear to have stacks of receipts, text messages, and other communiques that show without question that these transactions took place. Of course they did. Soon-to-be NFL players have great value to agents, and value brings cash.
Sports Illustrated is releasing a five-part series about corruption within the Oklahoma State football program. Players were bonused based upon level of play, recruits had sex with program hostesses, players got stoned while coaches looked the other way, and there was rampant grade fixing, according the the report.
“The System” peels the curtain on many aspects of college football. Benedict and Keteyian’s work isn’t a witch hunt, but an effort to give fans a look at how college football really works. None of it is surprising, but all of it is illuminating and fascinating.
The result of all this truth about the real world of college football is a complete gutting of any respect that remained among the uninformed for the NCAA’s ability to maintain order among the big time programs. The NCAA does a great job of managing all aspects of collegiate athletics, minus enforcement, but unfortunately enforcement is the only prism many use when viewing the work of Mark Emmert and his staff.
For years, smart asses, myself among them, have called for there to be riptide of documented violations so voluminous it would incapacitate the NCAA enforcement. If everyone breaks the rules, the rules must change or the enforcement staff would be paralyzed through inundation is the thought. What we wished for appears to have come to pass.
The amount of time ESPN devotes to the actual games being played this weekend – like the highly anticipated Alabama vs. Texas A&M rematch – pales in comparison to the coverage of the stream of not so scandalous scandals that make the NCAA look more impotent every day.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was quizzed about the allegations that former Tide offensive lineman D.J. Fluker received cash and a king size bedroom set from an agent through another former Tide player. The barrage of questions drove Saban from the press conference. As he walked out, Saban said sarcastically, “Appreciate your interest in the game.”
There is still talk about bringing massive sanctions against schools and agents. ESPN’s Trevor Matich spent some time this morning calling the law enforcement to “bring down the hammer of Thor” on agents who pay kids prior to the time it is appropriate. That assumes that agents paying players is the biggest or only subset of rules being broken, which is far from true. The problem with issuing penalties – either against schools or agents – is the same today as it was 63 years ago when the NCAA membership voted on the expulsion of Virginia, Maryland, and five other schools for violating the Sanity Code. The president of the University of Tennessee said of his vote to allow them to remain as NCAA members, “How can we kick them out when we are all guilty.”
College football runs itself without significant intervention from the NCAA. Only when its hand has been forced by the need to confirm its standing as an authority figure does the NCAA rear its head and smite an offending member. Journalism is now confirming what we have always known – that amateurism is a sham – not just as a standing for college football players, but as a concept.
Why should collegiate athletes not be paid? A good answer to that question will be the first. Who’s to say that a scholarship is sufficient compensation for a kid creating millions of dollars in revenue for a university? You? Me? The market determines value, and to deny that is to say the world is flat.
Presidents of major conference universities need to convene in a very serious and reasonable way to discuss what the NCAA’s role should be moving forward. They need to accept the tenet that effective enforcement of rules requires a rule book that respects the realistic needs of those whose behavior it is designed to control.
Some are saying that the horse has left the barn with respect to the NCAA enforcing rules, but the truth is that there has never been a barn for that horse. The NCAA has never effectively regulated college football or men’s basketball because the rules don’t acknowledge economic physics.
The rules are a sham, and the enforcement of those rules is an uneven farce – particularly when the NCAA decides it should be in that business.
Schools who self-report their transgressions or those targeted by the reporters who break stories of violations are the only ones punished. Who provided Yahoo with the paper and electronic message trail that cause Alabama, Mississippi State, and Tennessee such worry today? A source with ties to the sports agent community. Could be a disgruntled competitor, or a disgruntled former employee at an agency. Whatever the specific position of this person, you can bet he or she is somehow disgruntled.
Rules are being broken everywhere because the rules simply do not work, and it’s time for the organization trusted to administer those rules to admit the current construct does not and more importantly cannot work moving forward.
That admission will be the first step toward regaining relevance and trust.