On Friday the Joe Nocero of the New York Times ran a well written article pointing out the apparent double-standard in how the NCAA rules committee doles out punishments over infraction. UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, who violated NCAA recruiting infractions on several different occasions, was allowed to defer his suspension until the start of next year while Baylor center Perry Jones, whose mother borrowed money from a coach to pay rent without her son's knowledge, was suspended less than a day before the Big XII tournament. Without Jones, their star player and potential lottery pick in next year's NBA draft, Baylor was eliminated in the first game of their conference tournament. The team was not invited to the NCAA tournament and their season was over. Calhoun was allowed to coach his team to an eventual 2011 NCAA Championship. His third for the Huskies.
The New York Times rightly insinuates that the difference between the two punishments was a business decision. Baylor is a small program with an even smaller basketball history while UConn is a school that feeds directly to two major markets (Boston and New York) and whose athletic history and stature are without question. To lose a team like UConn before the tournament by suspending Calhoun could significantly damage the tournament's popularity, which damages TV ratings, which damages future ad revenues. The article also points out that the same business decision was made when Auburn QB Cam Newton was allowed to play in the BCS national championship after being cleared of violations roughly equivalent to that of Perry Jones (his father tried to sell his son to the highest SEC bidder with the son's knowledge).
The article insinuates that corruption and cronyism played more into the decisions of the NCAA rules committee than what is best for the student-athletes or the spirit of amateur athletics that the NCAA bases its supposedly stringent rule system on. Unfortunately, this statement could not be closer to the truth. The NCAA has evolved into a multimillion dollar business who sell corporate sponsorships for their championship trophies and athletic awards for healthy profits. These corporate sponsors essential act as share holders the NCAA is now bound to, for in order to compete in today's sports television juggernaut it must spend on its own advertising, transportation, staff and board members. Spending that stops at waters edge of the ideology of amateur athletics, while players drown in the life boat known as full-scholarships.
This is where the article stops, but unfortunately where the main problem begins. For the NCAA's systemic corruption to halt one of two things must occur. The product must suffer drastically or its consumers take a stand against the NCAA, demand change and watch its beloved product suffer in fiery righteousness. Can you see either occurring?
First off the product is too strong. NCAA football and basketball immensely popular and approachable. Basketball season is roughly 35 games. It is slower than the NBA, and governed by a coach’s autonomy (the structure of plays are more obvious than its professional counterpart). College football is a foundation of American sports in ways that even the NFL idolizes. In the end, with 52% of Americans college educated, everyone has their school, their team. Football and basketball are also collegiate sports’ only two revenue-positive sports and both are wildly popular in attendance and television ratings (with both sports' championship games, since 1975, averaging roughly 25 million viewers).
The second problem is how to galvanize the viewing public behind the plight of people like Perry Jones. The kind of corruption found in the NCAA is a death by a thousand cuts. Without a strong moral argument like baseball had with steroids (drugs are bad, I don't want my kids taking them), those arguing for change are doing so with circumstantial evidence alone. Even the word "steroids" was able to take an intricate and complex issue and oversimplify it. Make a complex problem simple and people want, they need, change. Describing the discrepancies between the treatment of Perry Jones and Jim Calhoun in detail requires a year of law-school. To be over simplistic, what needs to change about college sports isn't sexy enough for the public to push for change.
By reading this one may infer that I find the fight against the NCAA futile, but the opposite is true. I can't help but see a time coming when NCAA sports ultimately loses complete sight of the theory of college athletics which, at this point, it is merely holding on by a thread. When this happens we will look back at writers like Joe Nocero who have been documenting corruption the entire time.