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Abolish the NCAA?

Unenforceable rules will be broken.

by James Leroy Wilson
September 17, 2013

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Abolish the NCAA?

College Football Crown Update: Baylor didn't play this past week, and therefore retains the College Football Crown. For the history of the Crown, go here.

College football never lacks controversial off-field news. This past summer, Heisman Tropy winner Johnny Manziel repeatedly grabbed headlines, culminating in a half-game suspension the first game of the season for a dubious autograph-signing agreement that may or may not have involved cash payments.

And then last week, Sports Illustrated came out with a story of cash payments, rampant drug use, and sexual favors for recruiting prospects at Oklahoma State. This was followed by a Yahoo story of payments to six football players in the Southeast Conference, including one member of last year's Alabama national championship team.

Behind these "scandals," we all know, is that scholarship athletes are barred by the NCAA from receiving benefits a non-athlete wouldn't get. Yes, athletes do get free tuition, books, food etc. But any additional favors - such as salaries paid by universites, financial inducements from boosters, and even the occassional free dinner - violate NCAA rules.

I'm not entirely sympathetic to the "pay the athletes" perspective; investments in athletes, including those in sports that generate no net revenue - can be several tens of thousands of dollars per year per athlete. Graduating debt-free is a great deal for those who won't make lots of money in pro sports.

But I do have strong doubts whether policing the "outside" inducements can ever be effective. ESPN basketball analyst and lawyer Jay Bilas believes the NCAA should enforce on-field rules only. The off-field rules are often unfair and arbitarily if ever enforced.

I wonder if the NCAA should exist at all. The above incidents tell the tale. The Manziel suspension appeared to be a "plea bargain" because those was no real evidence against him. And, NCAA investigators can't use press reports as the basis of going after Oklahoma State or the SEC schools, and they know that individuals involved who revealed evidence to the press are less likely to reveal it to them.

In short, the NCAA can't enforce its own rules. Unenforceable rules will be broken. Perhaps it's time to move on.

Why not? Instead of an over-arching bureaucracy "governing" intercollegiate sports, why not break up the organization into separate governing bodies for each of the different sports?

Just as Olympic sports have differing eligibility standards, so could different college sports. Ideally, each team could become "associated" with a university, but become fairly autonomous and self-funded while allowing athletes to earn outside income.

If we are to mix sports and higher education together, we should dispense with the illusion of amateurism and instead focus on whether the students are real students. In a decentralized system, it would be easier for the sports' governing body to "audit" each university and athlete, or randomly perform such audits, to ensure the students are actually going to actual classes and earning acceptable grades.

Nobody can effectively police under-the-table payments and other inducements. And we'd have better competition in each sport if each sport had its own governing body.

The NCAA doesn't need to exist. The member universities should abolish it and adopt new athletic associations more aligned to their interests.

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