by Kent Sterling
There is going to come a breaking point in this process of separation between the 65 big conference schools and the other NCAA Division One schools, and it moved a couple of steps closer with a letter authored by the Pac-12 presidents that was sent to the other 53 presidents of the High Five.
The letter represents an acknowledgment that the dam of amateurism in collegiate athletics is leaking, and meeting for months and years with thumbs planted rectally to choose which holes of the dike presidents should stick their fingers is going to allow a breach that cannot be stopped.
In the letter, as reported by the Associated Press, the presidents outline a 10-point plan, and urge swift movement before the question of amateurism winds up being decided in the courts, where the judges decide what is right rather than the universities themselves.
The 10-point plan answers several of the issues that drove members of Northwestern’s football team to seek the option to be legally classed as employee and to unionize.
- Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.
- Provide reasonable ongoing medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition or practice. Continue efforts to reduce the incidence of disabling injury.
- Guarantee scholarships for enough time to complete a bachelor’s degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.
- Decrease the demands placed on the athlete in-season, correspondingly increase the time available for studies and campus life, by preventing the abuse of organized “voluntary” practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week and more realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season.
- Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.
- Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for postseason play.
- Address the “one and done” phenomenon in men’s basketball. If the NBA and its Players Association are unable to agree to raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.
- Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and NCAA levels.
- Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage of their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.
- Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.
The obvious intent is to remove reasons athletes might find to challenge the amateurism ideal that is applied to those who appear to engage in all the activities associated with professional sports minus enjoying their share of the spoils.
All are steps in the right direction, and serve notice to members of the NCAA Division One not part of the High Five that if an amount of autonomy is not granted to the big schools, another method of redress will ensue.
College sports are quickly approaching a crossroads, and the status quo cannot continue to be tolerated. Evolution continues, and the players who are at the center of the debate are going to be treated differently one way or the other.
The presidents of Pac-12 schools showed they understand the urgency needed in changing the game. Either the presidents can manage their way through this potentially catastrophic era of serious adjustment, or they can be victims of it.
One way or another, change is coming quickly. Athletic departments can either guide the train or be run over by it.