Considering recent remarks made about the NCAA, times are tough for the governing body of college athletics. Cases involving the University of Southern California, Penn State, the University of Miami and UCF are a few of the investigations that have led members of the media and institutions to question the NCAA’s ability to govern.
The NCAA was created with the help of former President Theodore Roosevelt, inspired by concerns over safety in college football. A large group of universities created a set of eligibility requirements for football and other sports, and by 1910, the NCAA was formed with a six-page operations manual.
While membership in the NCAA is voluntary, there are no bona fide alternatives. To compete at the highest level of college athletics, a school must join the NCAA, which is run by its member schools. Universities create, approve and enforce every rule and policy change of the NCAA.
When the chancellor of Texas A&M University went public with his support of Johnny Manziel and questioned why student-athletes are not allowed to profit from autographs, no one asked if he had proposed legislation to change the rule. (He had not.)
For a few years, University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier has suggested that players receive a stipend of $300 per game to help their families pay for tickets and travel to games. However, as long as Spurrier neglects to ask his conference commissioner and/or USC’s president and athletic director to push for the required legislation, his stipend plan may never be instituted.
The NCAA has dealt with its share of internal issues that have damaged its image and credibility. While there is no excuse for breaking its own rules, the NCAA enforcement staff has failed to grow in manpower and budget at the same pace that the NCAA membership has grown. Counting all divisions of the NCAA, an enforcement staff of about 40 is asked to police hundreds of athletic departments and thousands of teams.
The investigative system isn’t broken though, and the UCF case is a great example of this. The case started with a series of media reports about alleged NCAA violations at UCF. The NCAA investigated and concluded that UCF had violated some NCAA rules, and UCF was successful in its appeal of some of the charges. The university went through the process, exercised its rights and demonstrated that the system can work.
Changes are happening in college athletics, but criticizing the NCAA for every problem is a lazy position to take. The NCAA is not to blame for television contracts in the billions of dollars — those contracts are negotiated by conferences working directly with the networks. Why doesn’t the NCAA make money from the new college football playoff system? Conference commissioners control it. Why aren’t college football players paid or allowed to make money from selling their autographs? The answer lies with the leaders of the institutions that comprise the NCAA — they are the ones making the rules. Who controls conference realignment? It isn’t the NCAA. Why does your football team play so many day games? The television networks schedule the games according to potential revenue. Getting the picture now?
Most fans falsely believe that there are billions of dollars available to pay student-athletes and instituting payment would eliminate much of the wrongdoing in college sports. While this isn’t presently true, it is an issue that universities will need to address as college athletics move forward.
The NCAA can make recommendations, but ultimately the future of college athletics, its structure and its governance lies in the hands of the real difference-makers — the schools that need to step up and start building their future.