Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reflections on the NCAA and USC

The NCAA hit USC hard today. But regardless of the severity of the punishment, they are still treating symptoms of the problem. In their report, the NCAA cited USC for a "lack of institutional control," meaning that such things had a history of repeating themselves at USC. This is why the penalty (10 scholarships lost per year until 2013, vacating wins, and probation from bowls) is so harsh. But we are seeing the effects of a lack of institutional control that spans the entirety of college athletics.

It is naive to assume that a business (yes, it is a business) that generates hundreds of millions in yearly revenue would not be influenced by money. It is hard to measure the individual financial impact that athletes make on the sport and for their school, but for a high-profile player like Reggie Bush, it must be significant. Recruiting is a cutthroat business. I am by no means advocating schools cheat to get players. But when millions are on the line, it is impossible not to play dirty.

We are seeing the effects of dirty play now. Conference realignments? Just a power-grab for more money. The BCS? Glorified entitlement for the already-rich. Money is the problem (with Bush, it was improper benefits, including free rent for him and his family), and until money becomes the solution, there will continue to be such scandals.

Too much of NCAA revenue goes to outsiders (aka, the BCS). Too much is spread to inequitably. If the NCAA wants to continue to use the "National Collegiate" moniker, it must represent its member schools equally, and make sure that the money is spread evenly. This is not professional sports. The Trojans aren't the Yankees. Sure, for some players, college athletics are only pit stops to more glorified destinations, but for the vast majority, sports are a way to build character, leadership, physical strength, and all those virtues that the NCAA extols in its student-athlete ads. Sure, teams compete to win. But they should play on a level playing field, even on monetary terms.

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