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Monday, August 29, 2011

Crazy Suggestion for NCAA: Look the other way

College football returns this week, and that means so does talk of NCAA violations. The Miami Hurricanes are trying to dodge the “death penalty.” Terrell Pryor will be punished by the NFL for breaking NCAA rules (despite how they tried to couch it). And the endless debate about paying players – as if somehow attending college for free isn’t enough – marches on.

I have a suggestion for the NCAA that I’m sure would never go anywhere even if I was one of the chosen ones blogging for espn.com, and I know it sounds absurd on the surface. I also think it’s the most workable solution to the problem of constantly punishing athletes and schools for violating rules, especially since most of these punishments rarely impact the people who commit the transgressions.

Here’s my suggestion: The system is actually working, leave it alone.

The “system” I’m referring to obviously isn’t quite the NCAA’s regulations for not paying athletes, recruiting, etc. I’m referring to the boosters. The people knowingly violating the rules, giving the best players on the football or basketball team pretty much whatever they want. I’m not quite sure why boosters do this except for the ego trip. I imagine they could get the same access to the team with legal donations to the ol’ alma mater, but I guess there’s nothing like knowing you kept the star quarterback happy when they win the big game.

I’m sure there’s some business dealings along the way, like prime seats to impress clients or maybe even having the star athlete around the office now and then. Don’t know, don’t care.

Of course, agents and coaches are in on the game too, but at least their motivations are clear. Coaches go all out to recruit the star high school athlete to win so they keep their jobs or move to better schools for higher paying jobs. Agents need to be agents for somebody, so they latch on to kids early. They slip the kids cash to make dorm life a lot more comfortable in exchange for a piece of the mega contract they expect to negotiate for the guys when they reach the NFL.

And this is all supposed to be some huge problem. But let’s really think about it – who cares?

People watch college sports for two reasons: entertainment and gambling. Either way, everybody wants the best kids playing.

No one gives a damn that Reggie Bush was stripped of the Heisman Trophy and USC officially forfeited the games he was declared ineligible for. They remember watching him play and whether or not they won money.

It’s not a deterrent to the “next” kid not to take money from an agent because Bush got punished. If that isn’t clear by the constant reports of investigations, suspensions, and asterisks in the record book, nothing will ever make it clear.

Every coach will tell you how impossible it is to keep track of what every kid is doing. Hiring more staff isn’t going to change that.

Bottom line, no one gets hurt by the problem of boosters giving kids money. The “experts” who moralize over schools paying kids to keep them away from agents and boosters are kidding themselves. Even if kids were being paid a stipend by the schools, it’s never going to be enough to make them turn down more money from a booster.

Of course, once people start talking about schools paying their athletes, the big dilemma of who to pay comes up. Do you pay everybody? Is it fair to pay the football star and not the softball catcher?

Ask the booster.

In all seriousness, this is where I think the system actually works. I’m not a proponent of schools paying the athletes. They’re already paid with free tuition. Ironically, the moralists scoff at this notion, insinuating but never quite saying outright that the kids aren’t there for the education. I never quite understand how they can be so snooty when arguing that paying athletes is merely doing what’s right by the athletes and admitting that the athletes don’t care about the diploma in a “let’s get real” tone all at the same time.

Actually, a lot of them are there for the education. So, ok, let’s get real.

This “problem” of violations, lingering agents and boosters, and whether or not to pay kids, centers on the guys going to the NFL or NBA. No one is paying the softball catcher.

It’s almost like natural selection for sports.

The kids in the sports that make money for the schools are getting paid. They go to school in order to get paid, whether in the pros or sooner. Any notion that they need to be protected from the agents so they can focus on their studies just doesn’t apply any more.

And, bottom line, no one is getting hurt by it.

The NCAA can’t even argue that it gives certain schools an advantage. The USCs and Miamis of the world are on a level playing field in this game too, and the mid majors can fight it out on their level.

It’s already happening.

I’m tempted to say that the NCAA should regulate what’s already going on. For example, register agents and oversee payments to the athletes. But we’ve already seen how good the NCAA is at regulating interaction with athletes.

I’m not generally inclined to throw my hands up and just let people screw with the system. But in this case a new system that essentially works has developed. The NCAA should just get onboard.

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