Fixing the broken NCAA system

What the NCAA can do to repair image in light of basketball scandal

photo by Bill Foster

It’s been a long time coming: The federal government finally is holding the NCAA and its member institutions to the same standard that it demands of every other business or nonprofit organization.

This isn’t a hit piece on college athletics. The NCAA isn’t a cartel, and its athletes aren’t treated like slaves. Almost every single individual I know who is involved in collegiate athletics is a fine human being who legitimately wants to help student-athletes and to promote amateur athletics nationwide.

However, the NCAA is a nonprofit organization that pays its executives and management personnel more than they could make in the private sector, actively works to give very little to the group of people it claims to benefit, has a history of covering up violent crimes and allows its benefactors to pay its employees under the table.

Again, this isn’t a hit piece, but it is time to face the reality of what big-time college athletics has become.

Imagine if a megachurch operated the way NCAA member institutions do. Imagine if the company for which you work took in billions in profits each year and paid the majority of its employees under the table.

We wouldn’t accept the NCAA’s model in any other business situation. We would shut down any other not-for-profit organization that operated the way the NCAA and its member institutions have operated for decades.

It may be the worst kept secret in America that college athletes receive under-the-table payments for playing sports. We all have seen the quickly deleted Instagram posts from high-profile college football players showing them posing with $50,000 cars or holding thousands of dollars in their hands. The father of former Texas A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones claimed in 2013 that his son was offered $600,000 to attend another school. SB Nation did a profile of an unnamed SEC bagman on its website in recent years. Yahoo Sports quoted FBI sources as saying more than a billion dollars has changed hands under the table in recent years in order to land big-time basketball recruits to certain schools. Keep in mind: Basketball isn’t nearly the moneymaker for power-conference schools that football is.

Players are being paid to sign to play basketball and football with schools. There is no debate whether or not it is happening; it is.

The FBI has an obligation to investigate the NCAA. It’s a multi-billion-dollar business paying employees under the table. The majority of the public may not care. The majority of the sports-viewing public may prefer that the Justice Department not get involved in college athletics at all. That doesn’t change the legality of the situation.

Beyond the money trail, the FBI should investigate the handling of criminal charges levied against student-athletes by NCAA member institutions. In the last decade, more than a third of Division I schools have been sued for their handling of Title IX sexual-assault claims against student-athletes. Author and investigative reporter Jessica Luther documented 110 cases of alleged sexual assault committed by college football players between 2013 and 2016. High-profile cases at Baylor and Florida State showed schools have worked hand in hand with local law enforcement to bury rape allegations committed by student-athletes.

Why has the Justice Department never investigated these schools before? Why have local police departments never been investigated for colluding to cover up violent crimes in the name of college athletics?

Again, if any other business or nonprofit operated this way, we would close its doors and prosecute everyone involved.

So what can be done now?

It’s not time to blow up the NCAA completely. But it’s time for the NCAA and its member institutions to comply with the actual law, and it’s time for the Justice Department to force them to follow the law like every other entity is expected to do.

If a player wants to take out a loan from an agent to sign with them based on predicted future earnings, let him or her. If a shoe company wants to pay a player to play at a certain school, let it. If a booster wants to pay a player to attend and play college athletics at his or her alma mater let him or her. If a popular college player can earn money using his or her name, image and likeness, why shouldn’t he or she be able to? Who is hurt by eliminating the black market? As long as student-athletes can stay academically eligible and claim earnings as taxable income, they should be able to make every dollar off of their abilities that they possibly can.

This is a capitalistic society, and it’s time for the NCAA to stop blaming the NBA, 18-year-old kids and “rogue boosters” for its broken, antiquated system. The NCAA doesn’t need to be destroyed; it just needs to be held accountable.

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