Earlier this week I offered opinions about how let down I was that NCAA President Mark Emmert assumed so little (any?) responsibility for the crimes that occurred at Penn State that resulted in their unprecedented sanctions. Of course, Emmert and the NCAA are not directly responsible for Jerry Sandusky abusing kids, but I believe they (NCAA) are responsible for creating and enabling the professionalization of college sports, which directly related to how PSU football was put on such a pedestal, which in turn prevented countless people from blowing the whistle on Sandusky (and the PSU program) as early as 1998. As the millions and millions of dollars rolled in, the NCAA fanned the fire by sitting on the sidelines and enjoyed all the riches, inevitably knowing that college sports (especially football) were clearly trumping academics and becoming bigger than life. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to speculate that when millions of dollars are rolling in, there will be an inverse relationship with self reporting of crimes (why would anyone want to shoot themselves in the foot?).
What we saw this week instead was Emmert scold PSU as though the crimes that occurred took place in a vacuum, devoid of the bigger system that has watched amateur sports morph into professional sports in every sense of the word. As college athletic facilities have developed into multi-million dollar complexes, and head coaches have enjoyed $5 million dollar contracts, private jets, and country club memberships, do you think for a second the NCAA didn’t suspect that hey, maybe this is getting a little bigger than we ever imagined, and maybe this new “academic” paradigm might inevitably do us in down the road? With such a blatant mockery of higher education, the NCAA has helped create football factory schools that have morphed into rock star status at colleges across the country. And then, when a school messes up (ala PSU), Emmert says tsk-tsk and tells them they need a better academic/athletic balance?? No “we helped create this,” or “we should have worked harder to stop athletic programs from becoming so much more important than the very academic institutions they rent space from.” As I said in a previous column, when you have assistant football coaches and strength coaches making significantly more in salary than professors, deans, and other important college administrative personnel, something is seriously wrong.
So what to do with this mess you might ask? I have been asked that question a lot lately, and would like to expand on a few very real measures the NCAA can begin with immediately — that is, if they are serious about increasing the value of academics while concurrently minimizing the odds for future corruption and rule breaking.
- Work with the NFL to create a Developmental League, similar to the NBA-D League that currently serves as a primer for talented players who might not yet be ready for the NBA. With this approach, high school players who are talented enough could bypass college (and lets be honest, there are plenty of players who only want the NFL and aren’t interested in college anyway) and immediately begin the professional sports careers. Coincidentally, this approach already exists in professional baseball, too. This new football D-League would also temper the over-the-top shenanigans college football coaches engage in while courting future star players, as they know that a couple 5-star guy will likely lead to bigger and fatter coach contracts (herein where a TON of the corruption starts).
- Put caps on college football coaches salaries. This suggestion is purely from a common sense angle — where else does an employee of an organization make 5 times the amount of money as the president? Colleges, that’s where! Think about how nuts that is — in many of the colleges across the country the football coach not only crushes the salary of professors and all administrators, but even college presidents – and sometimes by as much as 5 times the amount! With caps in place, elite-level college coaches can then decide if they want to stick with college coaching or move onto the NFL (either way, college football will be fine).
- New revenue distribution that allows for athletic earnings to be dispersed through the college, allowing for better scholarships, employee pay, and campus improvement (amongst other things). Instead of justifying the money stay in athletics because “that’s where it’s earned,” how about a little more sharing and dedication to improving the overall college, and not just lining the pockets of coaches with millions of more dollars?
As I mentioned earlier this week, if no changes are made and the NCAA only responds to problems in the future in a reactive, punitive manner, then I guarantee we will see more rule breaking and corruption in the future. The reality is that when there are big dollars, there will always be corruption. The good news is the NCAA and colleges can work together to improve upon this problem, and really, still “have their cake and eat it, too.” Colleges can scale back and re-emphasize academics, and still have school athletic pride and revenues (it just won’t always go back to funding coach salaries and athletic facilities). Sadly, its greed that has led to what we see in college sports today, and without strong leadership in place, we are likely only seeing the beginning of much bigger problems down the road.