How To Fix This
What The NCAA Has To Do
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The NCAA can't stop it. It can't even hope to contain it.
The NBA Finals are in full swing, Tiger Woods can't swing, and baseball is rolling right along, but college football's slimy side is dominating the sports headlines.
And it's the NCAA's fault.
The NCAA created the problem with its arcane, unfair, and unrealistic rules, along with its refusal to admit that it's completely and totally unable to properly investigate and police those rules.
Did the NCAA uncover the Ohio State scandal? No. Did it blow the lid off of Reggie Bush's shenanigans? No. Did it whiff on the Cam Newton fiasco? Yes. Has it done anything to prevent programs from cheating and future players from taking cash, benefits, and other incentives? Not even close, and the chickens are coming home to roost.
Now the NCAA has some hard decisions to make when it comes to how it runs its business. The current methods of law enforcement clearly aren't working and the punishments and threats aren't providing any sort of a deterrent.
Vacated wins? Really?
Even stickier will be the lucrative TV deals, because very, very soon the networks that paid billions of dollars for the rights to the biggest college football games and the top showcase teams will demand to have some say in the matter about how the Ohio States and USCs of the world are punished.
Imagine telling Fox that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are on probation and probably won't be good enough to make the playoffs over the next three years. What if a major network bought the rights to the AFC only to later find out that Pittsburgh and New England were ineligible to win the Super Bowl? Eventually there'll be a butting of heads considering so much money and so much exposure is at stake, and at some point some TV executive is going to break something tasteful if another top BCS program gets crushed because some dopey booster gave a kid a car.
How quickly can these mega-deals get screwed up? The promos are rolling during the NBA Finals for the upcoming Texas Network, but all it took was one comment from Rachel "Yoko" McCoy, Colt's wife, about how Texas might be in the improper benefits game and now the vultures are moving camp from Columbus to Austin. Can a football program be banned from its own channel?
How many more huge names can get whacked? USC is already hamstrung, and Ohio State is next after Jim Tressel, who wore fatigues during the spring game to show support for the troops yet resigned on Memorial Day, and school president Gordon Gee, who apparently graduated from the Anthony Weiner School of Damage Control, lost the scandal from Day One.
And there a plenty more on the way.
Tennessee is trying to get ahead of the storm with athletic director Mike Hamilton bailing and leaving a major mess to clean up.
North Carolina has been put in a holding pattern by the NCAA because of the infamous party in Miami that destroyed the team's 2010 season.
Alabama reportedly spent over $200,000 on "recruiting services," and this came on the heels of Oregon's very, very curious way of getting a few Texas players to come to the Pacific Northwest.
The Stanley McClover allegations against Ohio State, Michigan State, LSU, and Auburn are still lingering, while the college sports world is still scratching its head over how Cam Newton was able to win a Heisman and a national title even though his dad asked for $180,000 from Mississippi State.
Throw in the agent issues with Georgia's A.J. Green, Alabama's Marcell Dareus, and all the Josh Luchs allegations that came out a few months ago, and mix in the complete and utter fiasco with the Fiesta Bowl executives, and college football has turned into an ugly, uncontrollable fire that the NCAA has no prayer of putting out.
However, expect things to quiet down for a little while. After all the craziness, programs and boosters that might have been walking a thin line over the last few years are going to shut it all down until the climate starts to settle. There's a reason more teams aren't getting put on probation; the people who cheat know what they're doing. They're not going to get sloppy now with everyone searching for the next big mistake to pounce on.
But that doesn't mean there won't be cheating going on, and that doesn't mean that there won't be more very big, very splashy headlines in the near future. But what can and should the NCAA do? How can this possibly get better?
Here are three suggestions to fix the glitch. There's the right way, the wrong way, and my way.
1) The Right Way
Working in the parameters of the possible, considering the NCAA won't start paying players any time soon, there's a very easy, very simple way to clean everything up.
Sweep it all under the rug, and then get nasty.
There's a certain practical reality that has to be dealt with. First, the NCAA doesn't have the manpower or the ability to police and investigate every incident with a fine-tooth comb. Unless the media does the legwork, this is too big a task for the NCAA and it has to admit as much.
Second, the NCAA can be lied to, and everyone does it.
This isn't a court of law or a federal investigation; there aren't any perjury charges if you don't tell the NCAA the truth. If there isn't hard evidence it's impossible to punish to the full extent of the rule book, and it's not like anyone's keeping receipts on $100 handshakes.
The NCAA has to understand its limitations, work with them, and use them to its advantage.
Start out by granting amnesty. Laws aren't being broken with the various violations, no one has really gotten hurt, and what's done has been done. The NCAA should come out and say that anything and everything that happened before June 1, 2011, and isn't currently being investigated, will be forgotten and forgiven. Congratulations everyone, you got away with it. More power to you.
However, going forward, play time is over.
Schools, coaching staffs, and administrators, if you self-report and do a consistently good job of cleaning your own house, the NCAA will work with you. This is a massive job and not everyone is going to stay on the up-and-up, so as long as the individual schools do a better job of not letting the little stuff slide, enforcement will start to work more efficiently and problems can be nipped in the bud. But any rule breaking that doesn't get immediately reported and taken care of, and there really isn't as much of a gray area here as you might think, will bring the nuclear bomb.
Any violation that a coach doesn't know about – like boosters providing incentives and benefits – will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but as long as the program does everything possible to report the problem, cuts out the cancer, and takes all the reasonable steps to make the situation right, there will be some leniency. But if there's even the slightest misstep or sloppiness by the program, the offense will result in a bowl ban for one year and the loss of two TV games.
Contrary to popular belief, most head coaches have a decent handle on every miniscule aspect of their programs, and they know exactly which supporters need to be caged and which players might cause problems. How do you stop a booster? Take away the bowl game and you take away his fun.
Any violation that a coach knowingly allows to happen will result in an instant termination of the his job and a five year ban from coaching at the FBS level. A repeat violation within three years means a one-year death penalty for the program.
Yes, it's time to kill the gnat with a bazooka because the current way isn't working. Step out of line and you'll get hit so hard you won't dare allow any more screw-ups.
College football programs can be 98% squeaky clean if they really want to be, or at the very least they can lock down and police themselves well enough to make sure that every reasonable effort is being made to do things the way the NCAA wants. If the NCAA starts to get medieval, then the school presidents will get more involved and schools will pay far more attention to making sure everything is on the up and up.
Of course, coaches will whine that there's no way to monitor 100 players and what they're doing at all times, but too bad. Figure it out. Recruit players who aren't going to screw up and put the fear of God into their heads from the beginning of the courting process. However, if the school and the coaching staffs show that they're making every effort possible to keep control, the NCAA will need to have some semblance of judgment because, yes, sometimes someone does screw up and there's really nothing that a coach or program can do.
Make the penalties real and harsh and the ugliness will all stop. There will be misinterpretations of the rules and there will be violations, but real change will begin if the schools and programs start to bend over backwards to show that they're trying to keep everything under control.
2) The Wrong Way
A bigger stipend for the players. The suggestion put forth by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, among other conference commissioners, that players deserves a piece of the pie was a disaster. Now, there's confirmation and admittance that the system isn't fair, and if the system isn't fair then why shouldn't a player take extra incentive from a booster? What's the difference between getting $3,000 from the Big Ten and $3,000 from Happy J. Alumnus? Nothing.
3) My Way
I've written and said this in every way possible. NCAA, it's time. Just let the players make money.
The schools don't have money lying around to increase the stipend – the extra TV money should go into the underfunded academic programs.
Really, was it so bad that Terrelle Pryor allegedly made money from signing things? (By the way, I write that in plain view of the Pryor-signed football given to me as a gift last year.) Is it really that bad if a booster wants to take a player out to dinner, or hand him $100, or give him a car? Is it really morally wrong to make a deal with a marketing company while still in college, sell a t-shirt for some extra cash, or go to a party thrown by an agent? Of course not.
NCAA, it's time to change the focus of your mission. Instead of trying to police all the minutiae, realize what's truly important. Do more research on the concussion problems. Finally start doing something about the underreported and completely unnoticed steroid and performance enhancing drug problem. Work harder at helping players be students. Basically, focus your energy elsewhere.
NCAA, this is fixable, but you have to become realistic. Times have changed, and you need to, too.