This Week In Dumb Proposals To Fix The NCAA….

September 13, 2011 – 8:06 pm by McD

A study just came out that more or less proves that the college athletes so many people love to watch and gush over (especially in keeper leagues, which I only recently extricated myself from) mostly live below the poverty line because of the way their scholarships work. That isn’t to say they’re all poor, of course. It just means that the scholarships they receive barely allow them to live comfortably without help from home. That kind of defeats the purpose of a scholarship, though.

The implications of this are fairly wide-ranging. It means that athletes in the most popular sports are more likely to accept offered money just to cover living expenses, especially those from already poor backgrounds. I’d say this explains a lot of the Ohio State scandal, since many of those players sold items for cash. It also means that so many schools who make quite a bit of money off of those athletes (and pay their coaches outrageous sums of money) are treating them pretty badly considering how much they make off of these players.

That portion of the report is probably enough to prove that the NCAA needs to step in and make sure all scholarship athletes are given stipends that actually allow them to live at a reasonable level of comfort while they play sports for their school. Naturally, the authors of the report decided to go even further and suggest several impractical and insane ideas.

My favorite (because it compelled me to google this SNL skit) is the “lockbox.” Briefly, this is a concept in which the athletes would be allowed to store some or all of the money the schools pay them – which should include a portion of television revenues among other things – in a fund which they would be able to cash in upon graduating from school. The money available to be in the “lockbox” would also include any endorsement monies the athletes were able to secure, since the study also suggests college athletes should be, as the article says, “free to seek commercial endorsements.”

I have no idea about the motives behind this study, if there were any. But the naivete behind the lockbox is so crazy it’s kind of cute.

Money is the number one problem in college sports right now. But only football and basketball make it, and often athletic departments rely on that money to fund other sports. Also, people seem to love giving it to recruits and players currently in school, and there is a ton of money to be made from endorsement deals, marketing and ticket sales. Basically, college sports are lousy with cash right now, both legal and not-so-legal.

The study rightly suggests that, since there is enough money to help a Saudi prince live for at least a year running through certain college sports right now, the athletes who play those sports should be completely financially covered if they receive a scholarship.

But suggesting that they should also be able to market themselves and accept money doesn’t fix any of the deeper problems with money in college sports. Or the fact that the NCAA is totally absent in actually preventing illicit activity with recruits and people who would give them money.

After all, the opportunity for merchandising and endorsement money just gives recruiters another pitch to throw at highly-touted recruits, who are already being offered ridiculous, under the table money anyway. And not all of them know Will Lyles either. Now this study wants to make it legit and turn high school seniors and college freshmen who are good at football or basketball into brands. All in the name of more cash. As if egos weren’t enough of a problem already.

One of the beautiful things about college sports is that it’s supposed to be about something other than branding and market research. But even the universities themselves have given in to the free-market temptations wholeheartedly. Forget about the bowls.

The last thing college sports needs is any more glorification of high school recruits, and allowing anyone to endorse products or stash more money in a lockbox just makes it worse. Sure, they get to make money near to what the universities are making off of their talents, but how does any of this make college sports less dirty?

The Ohio State scandal didn’t only happen because Ohio State’s football players weren’t given large enough stipends. That was part of the problem, to be sure. But it was also about football players using their notoriety around Columbus to get free swag and tattoos just because they could. They definitely shouldn’t have needed money so badly they had to sell their “gold pants” to creepy, overzealous boosters but tattoos and cars are still luxury items, and they went after those too.

Just a guess, but I’d say Oregon and Maryland will immediately become football and basketball hotbeds simply because of the Nike and Under Armour endorsements they could potentially get. That wouldn’t help college sports one bit.

It also screws non-football and basketball athletes quite a bit. They’re already second-class citizens in terms of creating profits, but this proposal might as well just tell every high school kid who likes to run track, play tennis or volleyball to just give it up now and play football, since it’s a “money sport.”

It’s also powerfully sexist, since women’s sports do not draw near the revenue that men’s basketball and football do. There’s no money for endorsements in women’s cross country or swimming until athletes make the Olympics. Life doesn’t get any better for those athletes, other than increasing their stipends, and they will matter even less to athletic departments since all sports could get more expensive with rising stipends anyway. Indiana has 22 varsity sports, and most of them don’t make money or gain anyone much notoriety, especially women’s sports. Title IX exists for a reason, people.

The chance for endorsements and advertising money would also increase the need for agents and marketing representatives for college athletes. It’s already nearly impossible to regulate their contact with college athletes, and this proposal would only make it more difficult. Oregon would have to hire LaMichael James a bodyguard to keep the agents off him as he walked to class. The money big-time players could make is just too big to eliminate the cesspool-factor that’s already ruining college sports in the first place. It’s easy to see why NCAA President Mark Emmert scoffed at a lot of the study before he even read it.

If Reggie Bush’s accepting money from wannabe sports marketers made it so the Pete Carroll years basically never happened at USC, the potential for constant scandal under the “lockbox plan” jumps exponentially.

Worse, schools could even offer transfers big money too. Who knows what Baylor could offer Lache Seastrunk in exchange for his football services if this system were in place. It’s all about the sales pitch when it comes to recruits, and that means a recruit could spend a couple of years at one school, make some endorsement money, and then transfer to another school and make some more endorsement money. Basically, it’s O.J. Mayo’s high school career writ large and spread all over college sports.

But hey, taking whatever innocence college football and basketball still have is fine. That crap’s all for the fans anyway. The players are already taking extra benefits at so many major programs that we might as well legalize the whole thing and make college sports into a de-facto professional league anyway.

It also sounds ridiculous to say scholarship athletes are treated badly too. Frankly, football and basketball players at most big-time programs live like kings. And yet this isn’t just about them, though the NCAA and this study seem to be obsessed with them. It’s also about the second and third-tier sports and the athletes who get no fame or recognition. There’s no reason to further ignore them or make them even more invisible to athletic departments.

But most of all, fixing college sports is going to require a great deal more regulation. If Mark Emmert and the NCAA are serious about keeping agents, money and scandal out of college sports, then they will have to be much, much more proactive.

It’s still up to schools to monitor themselves and report their own violations, or it’s up to Yahoo! Sports to catch them. Where is the NCAA? They should be the regulatory agency, not laissez faire libertarians who want the the regulatees be the regulators too. Mark Emmert is (hopefully) not George W. Bush with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

So how about the NCAA takes some of that money it makes and actually hires people from their side to oversee and monitor athletic programs all over the country? Charles Robinson could run that f**ker for all I care, but the fact that the NCAA is so “serious” about stopping the Ohio States and Miamis of the world and isn’t considering meaningful regulation says what you need to know about this debate.

So until the NCAA steps up, we have to deal with dumb crap like this study. Much like the “job creators”and their taxes debate happening in Congress, it’s nothing but bad ideas until some one who truly cares pipes up. Once again, college sports is just like America. As it should be, but in a good way.

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