The NCAA continues to jam a square peg into a round hole when it comes to to their “amateur” sports model, with the most recent hiccup being their hypocritical position on educational quality in the aftermath of the found academic fraud at North Carolina. Specifically, the NCAA says it has no legal responsibility “to ensure the academic integrity of the courses offered to student-athletes at its member institutions.” This statement, while true, also appears to be in direct conflict with the NCAA core principles based on academics that state “students first, athletes second.”
The inherent problems with the NCAA amateur model
Admittedly, it is virtually impossible for the NCAA to watchdog every course offered at every member school, but at the same time it’s noteworthy how swift and direct the NCAA has been in distancing itself from the UNC academic integrity issues. While the debates will exist on the surface level around courses and eligibility, the deeper examination should take place at ground zero and how the NCAA can exist in the future purporting to hold academics as the top priority, yet seemingly distancing themselves quickly once academic concerns arise.
While many student athletes receive scholarship compensation (and a select few receive full-rides), there’s really no arguing that the NCAA and member schools make out far better on the deal of classes in exchange for athletic revenues created by student athletes. We annually see multi-million dollar athletic complexes built and coach salaries skyrocket, yet the trade for student athletes is constant (being able to take college courses at free or reduced rates). Of course, there is no denying free coursework is a nice benefit for those student athletes who seriously invest in their education, but often their efforts are capitalized on exponentially through tickets, merchandising, and even video game likeness. It is this NCAA one-sided, financially loaded and lopsided model that has extinguished the idea of college “amateur” sports that we once knew.
NCAA responsibility over academics
I don’t think anyone realistically expects the NCAA to know about the legitimacy of every course being offered in colleges across the country, but I also don’t think most people expected the NCAA to so quickly back away from any culpability while still promoting “education first” as their core value. You can’t have it both ways, and that is exactly the conundrum the NCAA faces today — they enjoy the mega-riches from college sports, yet don’t seem to want to get their hands dirty when tragedies like what happened at UNC occur.
Eventually the current NCAA “amateur” model (as we know it) will crumble, and college sports will morph into more of a professional sport model (if it isn’t already that). Holding academics paramount while simultaneously following the dollar simply can not co-exist, and while the NCAA desperately tries to do both, situations like UNC will regularly illustrate the inherent hypocrisy that exists within this model.