Commentary: NCAA Rules Need to Go


Within the last week, the NCAA alarm has rung several times as the likes of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida are being investigated for impermissible benefits provided to players by agents. At North Carolina, at least one star player might be suspended for his entire senior season. NCAA investigators are looking into what benefits defensive tackle Marvin Austin received, including the fact he was seen driving an NFL players car. In Gainesville, allegations are swirling that star lineman Maurkice Pouncey received $100,000 from an agent between playing in the SEC title game and the Sugar Bowl. 

At the time of the USC sanctions, many people came out saying what a rogue and dirty program USC was because of the incident with Reggie Bush. But to suggest that things like this were and are only going on at USC is naive. The fact is that these kinds of transgressions occur throughout the country, but most go unnoticed (not to mention the multitude of arrests that keep piling up). Although the NCAA has begun to make a conscious effort to keep agents at bay, the fact remains they will never be able to control the problem or fairly adjudicate cases. While there are laws in thirty-eight states preventing agents from paying players, they seem to carry little weight. As for NCAA rules, they can’t punish agents, only players and institutions receiving benefits. As a result, they should abolish the rule and allow players to receive benefits from agents while they are still in school.

The NCAA opposes such actions because it claims it believes in the archaic principles of amateurism and the idea of the student athlete. Don’t be fooled, the NCAA isn’t as concerned with the idea of the student athlete as it pretends to be. This premise is hypocritical given the NCAA’s actions. The truth is they are driven by money and do not place as much emphasis on school as they claim. In an effort to grab more money in a television deal, the NCAA expanded the men’s basketball tournament by three teams. Instead of playing on a thursday or friday, an additional six teams–forty-eight student athletes- will have to miss even more class time by playing on a Tuesday. In the end, the NCAA only cares about student athletes when it properly lines their pockets. If it doesn’t they conveniently forget about how much class time the players will miss.

In the case of USC, as my former dorm neighbor Jimmy Burke points out, the NCAA makes a mockery of its focus on academics by allowing juniors and seniors at USC to transfer to any school they wish. In effect, college athletics’ governing body is implicitly suggesting that being eligible for postseason play in your sport is more important than continuing your studies uninterrupted. After all, the NCAA has failed to place a timeline on when players must transfer by. If they somehow could manage to navigate the paperwork, the NCAA would allow players to transfer mid-semester. What kind of message does this send to athletes?

One contention the NCAA believes strongly in is that the value of a scholarship and college education should be enough compensation for players while they are in school playing as amateurs. While a scholarship is a great gift, elite players rake in millions and millions of dollars for their respective schools. While Reggie Bush received a full scholarship to play at USC–roughly $50,000 a year–he created ticket sales, merchandise sales, and donations from generous boosters that far exceed the amount he was given. The NCAA needs to stop exploiting athletes and allow them to benefit from their on-field play while in college. After all, it might motivate players to stay in school longer.

Some players grow up without the luxury of wealth. As such, they are in a hurry to get out of college and earn large paychecks to support their family. If players were allowed to receive endorsements while in college, they would be more inclined to stay in college because they could support their family while finishing out their education. With the current system in place, the temptation is for players to leave as soon as possible.

Another problem with the current set-up is the lack of fairness within the NCAA system. Despite all of the allegations, no other program will face the type of sanctions USC did. Somehow, the Committee on Infractions determined that Reggie Bush was such a high-profile player that he alone can bring down a program. Because he was the featured star on a championship team, that magically makes him more important than any other player who has been involved in an NCAA probe to ever suit up. While he broke the rules like others before him, the fact he was a superstar led to a much larger punishment than if he had been a scrub. The unfair expectation of the NCAA to monitor Reggie Bush simply because he was good shows an inconsistency in how the letter of the law was applied.

Furthermore, the Committee that oversaw the report was clearly biased. Former University of Miami athletic director Paul Dee–who was at Miami when their program was heavily sanctioned– chaired the committee and had a vested interest in stealing top recruit Seantrel Henderson, who said Miami was his number two choice and was very worried about the situation at USC. On top of that, the Notre Dame athletic director, a rival that USC has dominated for the last decade, had motive to cripple the Trojans to make it easier for new coach Brian Kelly to step in and defeat a bitter rival. The only way the process becomes fair is if a neutral third party is put in place to arbitrate these cases, but that scenario seems very unlikely.

When the NCAA wrote their rules on amateurism, times were different. It is time for the NCAA to wake up and allow players to receive endorsements while in college. In doing so, the NCAA could take a percentage of all endorsements and reinvest that money in the higher education the NCAA claims to so fervently defend.