SALT LAKE CITY — Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy recently called the NCAA organization “one of the worst in sports — maybe the worst in sports.” Actually, he’s understating a bit. There is no “maybe” about it. The NCAA is the worst in the country and, if not for FIFA and the IOC, it would be the worst on the planet.
But let’s not quibble. The NCAA is capricious, unfair, nonsensical, tyrannical, hypocritical, secretive, outdated and … you get the point. Now it’s all blowing up in the NCAA’s face. More than a dozen basketball programs are under investigation by the FBI for corruption and bribery. Coaches and players are going to suffer the consequences, and they should — they knew the rules, however unfair they are, and they ignored them — but the real issue is the NCAA itself.
The NCAA has created a business model that clearly no longer works, if it ever did. Any business model in which the greatest part of the work force is paid mere ducats — in the form of scholarships — while everyone around them — coaches, schools, TV networks, athletic directors/administrators, shoe and apparel companies, agents, advertisers — are making millions, is untenable, which is why the NCAA is faced with this latest mess.
The NCAA was created more than a century ago to look after the interests of the athletes in the wake of several football player deaths and calls to ban the game. For a time, it filled that role, creating guidelines and structure.
Then it became big business, and the athletes’ interests slipped to the back of the line. The networks came calling and the NCAA started down the path of becoming the money-grubbing, evil corporation that it is today. Just the NCAA Tournament alone produces a billion dollars in TV revenue annually.
Meanwhile, the NCAA wants to use the old business model for its labor force — which is to say free labor — while the other half is making billions in revenue with the new, evolving business model. The NCAA wants it both ways, and it doesn’t work.
It’s bound to produce scandal. There is too much money to be made, and money, like nature, abhors a vacuum. It finds its way to the players one way or another. The current scandal consists of thousands of dollars being paid by various agents to players, their families and their coaches to steer those players to certain schools. In turn, those athletes could mean millions in revenue to those schools and their coaches, etc., etc., etc.
The NCAA can try all it wants to control college sports and mete out punishment without due process and, in some cases, with no logic, but the level of corruption is too widespread. It’s like trying to plug holes in the proverbial leaking dike; they’re running out of fingers. The NCAA can’t keep up with it all. The current investigation would not have even happened if not for the feds.
And does anyone seriously believe that college football isn’t just as corrupt, if not more so, than college basketball, especially given the cash that flows in and out of that sport?
How widespread is the corruption? Consider this: The NCAA has vacated or forfeited about 800 college basketball victories as penalties for rules violations (per Sports-Reference) for a total of nearly 20 schools, most of them in the last 15 years. In football, the NCAA has vacated more than 200 victories for 11 schools, almost all of them in the last 15 years (per Deadspin). The NCAA recently added Notre Dame games to the list of vacated wins.
The bottom line is that the NCAA is broken and can’t be fixed.
“They certainly don’t care about the athlete,” Van Gundy said. “They’re going to act like they’re appalled by all these things going on in college basketball. Please, it’s ridiculous, and it’s all coming down on the coaches.”
The NCAA deserves all of this. It has abused its power for years, which just begs for violations. It not only has simultaneously preached amateurism and capitalism, but it has even denied basic rights to athletes. Nothing underscores this point more than the Ed O’Bannon case, which challenged the NCAA over a ridiculous rule that forbade athletes from using their own images for profit, even after graduation.
It’s all backwards. Universities have sold themselves to sports. They have become athletic franchises with schools attached to them, not vice versa, demanding in the 21st century that athletes perform as if this were still the 1930s.6 comments on this story
“With these latest allegations, it’s clear this work is more important now than ever,’’ NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “The board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity.’’
But the NCAA has already proved itself incapable of such change and that it has no idea how to accomplish it. It is laughable to think the NCAA can fix its problems since it is the problem. In the wake of the Salt Lake City Olympic bid scandal, the IOC also insisted that it was the only organization that could fix its problems, and we know how well that worked out.
The NCAA needs to be torn down and replaced with a new organization and a new way of doing big business.