The NCAA has been blasted this week in the wake of an undercover FBI investigation exposing the illegal exploits of several high-profile college basketball programs and major apparel companies such as Adidas.
Most notably, the Louisville Cardinals have already put their athletic director Tom Jurich and Hall-of-Fame men’s basketball head coach Rick Pitino on paid and unpaid leave, respectively. This came after a series of scandals of which they apparently had no knowledge, putting the school’s basketball program in a situation where it could receive the infamous “death penalty.”
The death penalty is an NCAA ruling that forces a program to stop competing for a full season or more, effectively killing off the team’s recruitment of players and limiting their growth for the next few seasons. It has only been implemented five times in the history of the NCAA – three times in Division-I–with the most recent D-I ruling against the SMU football program in 1987. The program has never again reached the heights of success as it did in the 80s.
In my opinion, the NCAA absolutely has to make a decision in the coming days to decide its path for the next few years, and ultimately for the longevity of the NCAA. The NCAA is a non-profit organization that has made billions and billions of dollars as a result of the use of student-athletes, effectively as its employees. The schools that participate in NCAA competition have also profited greatly as a result of their student-athletes, who, at the Division-I level, get nothing more than a free education.
I am not in any way demeaning the value of a free education. It’s obviously a fantastic thing to offer to an athlete who has dedicated their life to perfecting their craft in hopes of earning an education. However, the NCAA and its member schools know that, at this point, giving a free education is mere pennies compared to what the players make for their universities and the organization.
Additionally, the commitment to play at a Division-I school usually means that athletes don’t have nearly enough time to focus on school during the season and even during the off-season when practices and weight-lifting days are a regular occurrence. So how much does that free education really mean to the average student-athlete, especially in football and basketball – the big moneymakers for the NCAA?
That usually means the students, especially those from lower-income families, need other incentives to come play for a big-time school far away from home. That’s where the money from apparel companies and some extra lunch money from a big-time coach like Pitino come in. Pitino’s program at Louisville also had a history of providing recruits strippers and prostitutes as that extra reason to commit.
In the latest corruption scandal, the FBI uncovered a boatload of money passed along from apparel companies to coaches and agents and so on, all just to ensure that high-profile recruits will come to their school. While the details are all still a bit fuzzy and will be clarified further in the coming days as more schools are implicated in the investigation, it is clear the NCAA has to take serious action on ALL schools involved. Or else the NCAA will face the consequences of this kind of thing happening for as long as they want to maintain the innocence of amateurism and not paying their student-athletes outside of a full-ride scholarship.
“The NCAA has to enforce the rules…or people are going to think they can get away with (things like this),” UConn’s athletic director, David Benedict, said when asked about the scandal Wednesday.
If the NCAA doesn’t take action, one thing is very clear. The organization MUST figure out an appropriate method of giving athletes proper payment for their services, both to the universities they attend and the NCAA itself. The process of figuring out what defines “proper payment” will take a lot of time, but it will be worth getting rid of the BS and corruption that happens behind the scenes in the NCAA, just to maintain a sense of amateurism.
“Maybe this is a turning point…to clean college basketball up,” Benedict said.
The NCAA is quickly approaching its crossroads, the moment in its history that will determine its future. I only hope it makes the right decision, with the student-athletes in mind.