by Richard C. Crepeau

MARCH 18, 2013       archive

What are the major problems facing the NCAA today? Is the NCAA the major problem facing Intercollegiate Athletics today? As sportsnation Marches into Madness both questions seem to have acquired a sense of urgency in the media.

While there are an endless number of issues that rest like barnacles on the body of Intercollegiate Athletics, none of them seem to be able to be effectively addressed by the NCAA. So the answer to the two questions seems to be that the NCAA is the biggest problem facing intercollegiate athletics as the NCAA faces multiple issues, many of which are of its own making.

The most telling recent case in point reached the headlines in late January when the NCAA admitted that its ongoing investigation of the University of Miami had run afoul of the missteps by its own investigative staff. In short the NCAA's investigators failed to follow their own rules, and, in the words of Gene Marsh, the former infractions committee chairman, reached a "near low point" in the investigative process. For those who don't trust the NCAA, it was a late Christmas gift. NCAA President Mark Emmert described the errors as "shocking," while Emmert's critics found his leadership lacking.

So what is to be done? The NCAA moved quickly by firing a few staffers involved in the investigation and promising an outside review of the procedures in the Miami case and other of its investigations. This may have looked promising until the NCAA followed up its admission of errors by issuing a report accusing the University of Miami of "a lack of institutional control."

The obvious question here is which institution is out of control. The answer could well be both, but it seems remarkable that the NCAA would continue to pursue Miami after admitting that its own investigative process was itself out of control. To further muddy the waters Emmert in a recent interview with the New York Times said that the NCAA was in the process of redefining the meaning of the term "lack of institutional control" in order to separate the behavior of an institution from that of an individual. This, of course, is central to the charges against the University of Miami which stem from the actions of a booster rather than the institution. Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami, and queen of disingenuous university presidents, cried foul and said that her university had "suffered enough."

Procedural issues have also been raised in the Penn State case in which the NCAA is charged with failing to follow its own rules by, among other things, outsourcing the investigation of Penn State and failing to follow standard NCAA investigative procedures. Additional law suits against the NCAA are piling up over any number of issues including the use of the image of former university athletes for profit by the NCAA and the eligibility of a number of athletes. Criticism of inconsistencies in enforcement involving Ohio State and others bring to mind Jerry Tarkanian's comment that "The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it's going to give Cleveland State two more years' probation."

And so it goes on and on. Joe Nocera in recent months has used his column in the New York Times to enumerate a number of cases in which the NCAA dealt harsh and unjust treatment to athletes and former athletes. The state of New Jersey recently ran afoul of the organization when it passed a law allowing sports gambling in the state. The NCAA immediately ruled that no one in the state would be allowed to host an NCAA tournament. Several universities lost tournaments scheduled for their campuses. When a federal judge voided the law the NCAA promptly dropped its ban. It was of course too late for the affected universities to regain their role as host.

As always the NCAA claimed it was only seeking to protect the "integrity" of the game. New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi pointed out that some people have concluded that the NCAA is "broken and beyond fixing." He believes that may be true, but "when it comes to crushing the dreams of athletes who have done nothing wrong" the NCAA is still at the top of its game.

It is also quite good at enriching itself. The NCAA will haul in 90% of its annual budget from its billion dollar contract with CBS for March Madness television rights. This enables its top executives to pull down $6M in salaries, with Emmert taking away $1.1M. It is no wonder then that the NCAA was quick to jump on a University of Minnesota wrestler and take away his eligibility for selling his inspirational rap songs on iTunes for 99 cents each. These are just the kinds of actions that guarantee the integrity of intercollegiate athletics by saving them from excessive commercialism. This decision emanated from the new NCAA office complex in Indianapolis built at a modest cost of $35M.

And so the beat goes on with the NCAA hauling in its money, the universities riding on the backs of their athletes for cash and glory, and football coaches experiencing a 70% pay raise in the past five years, while states and universities are driven to the wall by declining tax revenues and shrinking budgets.

Perhaps the recent announcement by Florida Atlantic University that the naming rights of its football stadium had been sold to a commercial prison company is more apt than would appear at first glance.

So let's hear it for the Madness that is on the March.

On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don't have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.

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