DAN THOMASSON: NCAA is not what it pretends to be
August 21, 2013 10:30 AM

In 1960, I watched my university get beaten and battered by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, of which it had been a member since the association’s 1906 founding. Indiana University was punished beyond any reasonable fairness and it took years to recover.

The penalty for alleged football recruiting violations included restricting all Indiana University athletic program activities and post-season plays for several years. Newspapers across the country universally condemned the NCAA’s action as excessively punitive. As far as I know, a similar penalty never has been handed out since. The cost to the school was horrendous.

Now, the chief athletic governing body of college athletics is facing more challenges than at almost at any time. The promised reform can’t come soon enough.

The NCAA now must contend with the possibility of congressional action that would hurry along something it has avoided in a countless past investigations: establishing a semblance of fairness about its disciplinary actions.

Congressional lawmakers from Ohio and Pennsylvania have proposed the national Collegiate Accountability Act, following the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the Ohio State University case in which football players were caught trading memorabilia for tattoos. Among other things, this proposal would force the NCAA to institute a system of due process in its investigations and to protect its athletes from arbitrary punishment.

There is nothing wrong with the NCAA other than its bloated nightmare of a bureaucracy. It’s run by academics and their top administrators, with a rules book so large and unwieldy that it takes a battery of lawyers at most of its 200-plus top-division schools to decipher it.

Breaking a restriction is so easy that institutional control is almost impossible. Athletes have been punished for such miniscule indiscretions as appearing fully clothed on a sorority charity calendar or trading a sweatshirt or hat for body ink. The joke is that standing still in the wrong place and waving a pennant is likely to bring a suspension.

Meanwhile, huge payments to star players in major sports go unpunished for years.

The fact is that in the top bracket, the NCAA is anything but what it pretends to be: an overseer of ethical practices designed to benefit both its members and its “student athletes.” That term no longer bears any resemblance to reality in major sports such as football and basketball, whose athletes are purely and simply objects of commerce. In basketball, many players stay in college for just two semesters before heading to the pros. They are actually engaged in big business without commensurate benefits, including an education they may or may not finish, and this amounts to very little expenditure for the schools.

Ironically, it was a former Indiana University president, the late Myles Brand, who as NCAA chief executive from 2002 to 2009 preached a philosophy of scholarship before athletics — but delivered little.

Power in the NCAA rests with Division III schools, where the real student athletes reside. Young men and women play without scholarships other than those provided for most of their fellow students. And these institutions simply have more votes in the NCAA’s general assembly, to the frequent dismay of the bigger Division IA and 1AA and Division II schools, which consider athletics major fiscal enterprises.

There has been a growing sentiment that the big schools should form their own organization, one more in tune with their goals, which include raising the money from football and basketball to pay for the shortfall in revenues by sports such as baseball, track and soccer.

One need only review the state-of-the-art stadiums and arenas of the big-money programs to see where all this is headed. The cry for sharing the wealth among the athletes, at least in the form of some small stipend besides room, board and tuition, grows yearly. The argument is that they already are professionals forced to abide by a pretense of scholastic achievement.

Under the circumstances, the old cheer “boola boola” should be changed to “baloney baloney!”

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