In Search of the Middle Way

The two memes that have dominated the past week in college Football have been the imminent demise of the Big 12 conference as Colorado and Nebraska opted out for the PAC 10 and the Big 10 respectively and the conclusion to the Reggie Bush saga with the NCAA handing down the harshest punishments it has issued since the Albert Means recruiting scandal broke almost a decade ago. While there are interesting things to be said about the Big 12's imminent death, (particularly relevant to the UC fan is the reported contact between the Big East higher ups and the assumed Big 12 refugees Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State), but I will hold off on how all of that could work out until after the Big 12 is officially dead, presumably tomorrow. For now I want to talk about what has happened to USC in response to Reggie Bush's general dickish behavior.

I will be up front about this, I have always had a greater than average affinity for USC, certainly more so than you would expect from someone born and raised in the heart of Buckeye country and who has adopted Cincinnati as his home town. Cincinnati, a town of many passionate fan bases, all of whom hate the Cardinal and Gold with a vengeance. The blank stares of profane hatred I receive anytime I wear my USC hoodie in town can verify that. But this has nothing to do with my positive attitudes to the Trojans. My objection to the NCAA's actions is based on a fundamental objection with the mission and actions of the NCAA as an institution.

The truth of the matter is pretty basic, the NCAA and nearly everything it tries to do is just a huge joke to me. As an organization they are beyond ineffectual. I mean who the hell writes at least 100 plus page rule manuals for all the sports it covers (the 2009 the version for Football was 272 pages, next years Basketball book is 192 pages)? Beyond that, why would you ever construct these massive books of rules and standards without granting themselves the subpoena powers to punish the people and institutions who will invariably break the rules? In the world of sport sanctioning bodies and professional sports leagues the NCAA is the clown college. Roger Godell rules the NFL with and iron fist and the FIFA president lives in a style and wields power in a manor that would be instantly recognizable to Ernst Stavro Blowfeld. The last head of the NCAA, the late Myles Brand, was probably the most aggressive of any previous NCAA executive director. But he behaved more like a petulant child than someone with complete command and control over the massive organization whose head at which he sat. He knew that there were large paradigm shifting ideas and issues behind the scenes. Once he took the job he realized that there was nothing he could do to address them without letting the whole thing go to start anew and he was a bit dickish about not being able to change things

Here is a handy visual representation of how well Brand and his organization did at making sure every member institution followed the rules.

The NCAA relies on its member institutions to police themselves anytime that they break one of the rules. That policy of self policing has been enacted for one primary reason, they do not have the money, time, or resources at hand to actively police the roughly 1,200 member institutions and 400,000 student athletes and their activities. The NCAA has a handful of people who work full time to keep everyone in line. The best I can tell is that the ratio between student athletes and the people who are supposed to keep them in line is 2,500 to 1. In actuality that ratio is probably two or three times larger. Because of their lack of man and subpoena power the NCAA has to piggy back on the investigations of other agencies and institutions to get anything done. In the Bush case they never would have heard a thing about the agreement between Lloyd Lake, Michael Michaels and Bush if Reggie had just paid back the money he was given to him by them. But Reggie didn't, and he sprung another leak in the Associations wall.

The very way in which the NCAA is set up and organized encourages, or at the very least implicitly condones, the type of behavior exhibited in the Bush case. The NCAA would like everyone to believe that each person involved in intercollegiate athletics is a student athlete. But that is a myth perpetrated by the NCAA itself in the interest of their own self preservation. I would say that the vast majority of the 400,000 student athletes under the NCAA umbrella are true student athletes. But for the most part they play small sports at small schools. At the bigger institutions in the big money sports they just aren't. Yes they are students, but they are athletes first and foremost.

There are plenty of people that are out to vilify USC, Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo for what they have done, but that rather misses the point in my book. This whole sorry shaboogle should be the catalyst for a different debate entirely. It's not necessarily about should we or shouldn't we pay players. On that debate I have always come down on the side of paying them, but it is more about what you want the NCAA to be. I like to say that everything operates on a continuum, in this case between what the NCAA does now, mild, sporadic and ineffectual punishment for misdeeds or anarchy. Between the two skew very far towards anarchy. Truth be told, I don't really care if Reggie Bush got paid, not at all, because I know that he was far from the only one to do it. If you honestly think that Reggie Busy is the only person to get paid because of his athletic prowess since the last major sanctions were handed down against Alabama then you are a naive little princess who is up way past her bed time.

The entire system is corrupt to its core when it comes to revenue sports. The fact that this news was delivered on the same day that Colorado and Nebraska departed the Big 12 for newer, more lucrative homes, touching off what promises to be one of the largest money grabs in sports history, provides an appropriately sized sense of irony to the occasion. Big time college sports are professional in nearly every imaginable sense. However they are still constrained by the strictures of a system that was ideal for the birth of intercollegiate athletics, but now attempts in vein to restrain their growth. The question before us as fans is a large one. Would you like the NCAA to acknowledge those facts and act accordingly by dropping its sentimental and counterproductive notions of amateurism to start governing basketball and football as they need to be. Even if it means taking their fingers out of the damn and letting it fail. Or would you like to see the NCAA try to keep in line with it's current mission of being the last bastion of a concept, amateur sports, that was consigned to the trash heap of the 20th century long ago? The funny thing is, even in the unlikely event that this discussion takes place, the process of conference expansion could render the entire point moot.

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