Thursday, September 01, 2011

NCAA, Man Up and Call A Spade a Spade...


     Checking out the recent developments in big time college football namely, the shenanigans and kerfuffle happening at such institutions as the University of Miami, Southern Cal and Ohio State has led me to offer up my way of reforming college football, if I were in charge, which I ain't.
     My approach is dead simple—The NCAA and the major college football schools should just man up and admit that the game of college football, at least as played in the BCS conferences is not and has never been about wholesome amateur athletic competition and the providing of a way for talented student athletes to earn a degree while playing football. It's about money, cash, cabbage, dolo, greenbacks, whatever euphemism you want to use for legal tender in these United States.
     Now the majority of college football players in the big schools understand that they will never get a look inside an NFL training camp unless they apply for a job with a pro team. And they understand that playing in the colors of Old State U in front of a packed stadium on Saturday afternoon will give them an opportunity to earn a degree that if they play their cards right, will help them get on with their life's work, as former Steeler coaching legend Chuck Noll was fond of saying.
     But those aren't the guys I'm talking about. I'm talking about the players who see playing college football as merely an apprenticeship to prepare them in the hopes of being drafted by an NFL squad. These players aren't interested in a college degree. Most of them probably couldn't find their classrooms if you put them in front of the door, and those who are conscientious enough to attend classes only do enough to stay eligible to play football. They're only going to be in school for a couple years anyway, so most of them don't see the need for such hassles as registering for classes, buying books, attending lectures and studying for tests. And the coaching staffs of the big schools understand that, so they make all sorts of resources available to their players to keep them eligible. Resources that often aren't available to the same extent as a member of the general student body.
    And the administrations of these schools nod and wink at the whole fiasco because these players bring in tons of money for their schools as a result of playing in front of 100,000+ fans on the major national television networks. Money that may or may not pay for the new wing to be added to the library, after the football program takes its cut. A national championship will buy more positive buzz about your school than the news that a Ph.D student had inadvertently discovered a new alternative energy source that is abundant, free, utterly safe and environmentally correct.
    And all these infractions and foolishness isn't something that just manifested itself in the last twenty years or so. Shady dealings in college football have been going on since the turn of the 20th century. Adding ringers to the squad? That's old hat. Well meaning alumni and boosters providing players with walking around money for doing meaningless jobs? That's been going on on the sly for decades. And the NCAA insists on maintaining the facade that big time college football is strictly amateur sport played for country and college, and that the only compensation the players deserve is the sheepskin and the honor of representing their school on the hallowed field of athletic competition. Bullshit!! For more and more players these days, especially those in the so-called 'skill' positions of quarterback, running backs and receivers, it's about playing well enough to catch the eye of a pro scout.
     For the NCAA to continue to uphold this fallacy of wholesome athletic competition as the primary reason for major college football is the height of hypocrisy and a slap in the face of those student athletes who toil in the obscurity of the sports that aren't shown on a regular basis on ESPN. For them, the raison d'etre of college athletics is about representing their school and earning that scholarship to pay for their degree. And the quicker that the NCAA and the football haves can admit the real incentive that drives big time college football, the better.
     So what should the NCAA and the big football schools do? Simple. The schools that are a part of the major football conferences, the so-called BCS conferences should get together and create their own organization. Call it the Major College Athletic League or MCAL. This league should consist of four super-conferences of 16 teams each: The Big Ten; The Pac-10; The Southeastern Conference; and a fourth conference consisting of a merger of the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference. The schools that make up this organization would then renounce their membership in the NCAA en masse.
     Remember folks, membership in the NCAA is voluntary. Free of the rules and hypocrisy of the NCAA, the MCAL can make up their own rules regarding academic requirements for eligibility, the monetary compensation of players, the role of agents and boosters in relation to their contact with players and so on.
Each conference in the MCAL would be divided into two divisions based on geography. The best teams in each division would play for their respective conference championship and the conference champions and runner-ups would then play in an eight team playoff to determine the “national” champion. The various bowl committees that complain that a playoff would affect their chance at a cut of the cash would be forced to come along because they wouldn't want to leave all that money on the table. And as for college basketball, the MCAL would work perfectly because the sixty four schools that make up the league would already make up the field for a March Madness style basketball tournament.
     Now it's safe to say that a lot of the rules and policies that would be enacted would irreparably change the landscape of college athletics in general and college football in particular, but at least, all those involved, for the first time ever would call a spade a spade and recognize major college football for what it is. The players who are in school just to prepare for an NFL career already know. The coaches already know. Even the NCAA already knows, but just won't admit it.
     It's time to stop perpetuating the lie. Come clean, recognize the problem for what it is and stop this masquerade.
     The NCAA will still have a role to play. Without the big time schools continually violating it's rules, they can go on and be the regulating organization that enforces true amateur competition amongst its remaining member schools. There will still be plenty of students who want to play college football for the sheer love of the game. The vast majority of them playing in the current system already do.  
     I think that this idea is going to happen in one form or another within the next few years.  The frantic game of musical chairs going on with schools jumping from one conference to another to chase after the billions of dollars in the business that is major college football is a sure sign that a major shakeup is in the works.  The NCAA cannot afford to keep its head in the sand much longer.  They will either have to jump or be pushed into making changes in the way college football is run, and if they don't do something soon, the big football schools will do it for them and leave them in the dust.  Better to admit the problem, acknowledge that the game is much greater than them, and to let the big schools do their own thing.  
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