Wrong-headed policies, public-relations gaffes, and the accompanying media scrutiny have battered the NCAA’s reputation in the last several years, leaving the NCAA scrambling to recover before a growing movement toward secession becomes a reality. Since the thought of what secession would mean to college basketball and especially to March Madness is borderline unbearable, now seems as good a time as any to offer suggestions to the NCAA and its member institutions regarding policy adjustments designed to reverse the alarming trend toward dissolution.
Before considering solutions, let’s first understand the foundational cause of the problem. In a nutshell, the NCAA seems to value money and control over fairness to the student-athletes. Simply put, the public is against the NCAA because the NCAA seems to be against the kids.
If the NCAA’s leaders are willing to accept that We The People feel that they often don’t think or act with the student-athletes’ best interests in mind, they might consider one of two standard responses. First, the NCAA could engage in a public-relations campaign to tell us how we should be feeling about them. Second, the NCAA could take bold, corrective actions to change the way we do feel about them. Given the severity of the pending crisis, actions that do change the long-term reality would be a far more useful step than words that might change the short-term perception.
With this in mind, here are some suggestions to help the NCAA change both the perception and the reality in order to send a clear message that the best interests of the student-athletes is the top priority:
1. Draw a distinction between “team-based” revenue and “individual-based” revenue. Using this distinction, the student-athletes would not share in revenue related to ticket sales or TV contracts (because Duke’s TV revenue was determined before Jabari Parker arrived, and Duke will still sell out every home game after he’s gone), but student-athletes should receive 50% of the profits related to their names and likenesses, such as jersey sales, video games, etc.
2. Allow for a modified Olympic model. Student-athletes shouldn’t get paid to play, but they should be allowed to earn money based on their talents, names, likenesses, and fame. This means they should be able to endorse products, sign autographs, do commercials, and the whole nine yards (if they mention the school’s name or wear school gear, the school should receive 50% of the deal). This is a free-market solution that would allow student-athletes a fair chance to earn money without creating Title IX issues or costing schools one penny more.
3. Allow football and basketball players to transfer one time without penalty. The NCAA allows baseball players and golfers to transfer without penalty, and the NCAA allows all coaches to switch schools without penalty, and yet football and basketball players must sit a year to transfer D1 to D1. Whether the rationale behind this arbitrary and punitive policy is based on money or race, it’s still grossly unfair, patently absurd, and in no way representative of the student-athletes’ best interests.
4. Adjust the APR in several key areas. First, a school’s APR should not take a hit based on a kid leaving school early for a professional career (as long as he signs a pro contract within 12 months of leaving school). When Bill Gates and Michael Dell saw opportunities to earn millions of dollars prior to graduating from college, they both dropped out immediately. Student-athletes who are likely to be drafted and sign lucrative contracts in most cases should leave school early, and penalizing programs for this totally reasonable progression just doesn’t make any sense (plus, a coach worried about APR issues might be motivated to give a kid bad advice). Second, schools that receive an incoming transfer should get credit when that kid graduates, and schools with an outgoing transfer should only be penalized if the kid is in poor academic standing or doesn’t enroll in a new school within 12 months. Basically, a school should be penalized when a kid completes his eligibility but doesn’t graduate within a reasonable time frame, or when a kid transfers in poor academic standing, or when a kid drops out of college completely without signing a professional contract.
5. Keep the Eligibility Center focused on eligibility for competition rather than on college admissions and financial aid. Any school should be allowed to offer a scholarship to any kid, regardless of the kid’s academic standing. The APR holds schools accountable for not graduating kids, so coaches and schools have no motivation to put a kid on scholarship unless they believe he has a reasonable chance to graduate. Sure, without meeting the NCAA minimum standard for eligibility, a kid shouldn’t be allowed to play because he clearly has academic issues that should take center stage. But to return to the #1 principle of acting in the kids’ best interests, is a kid who needs academic rescuing more likely to receive adequate help at a D1 NCAA school with a professional academic support staff in place, or at a JuCo where the only “academic support” comes from an assistant coach who makes $4000 per year and has about 500 additional duties besides academic mentoring?
6. Do away with “the clock.” Simply put, as long as you haven’t been paid (beyond living expenses) to play that sport, you should have 4 years of college eligibility in that sport. Age shouldn’t matter, nor should when you started or paused your college career. As it is, the NCAA has way too many rules with way too many exceptions, which produces way too many inconsistent rulings and public-relations disasters.
7. No student-athletes should pay one penny out of pocket for medical care related to their required duties as student-athletes, and this level of health care should extend indefinitely if the effects of a sports-related injury are ongoing. The NCAA should cover the costs of this directly, rather than leaving it up to each institution.
8. Scholarships should be four-year pacts, as long as the student-athlete lives up to the moral and academic terms of the pact. Furthermore, if a coach decides to run a kid off because he isn’t good enough as an athlete, the kid should have the choice to remain at the school as a regular student on a scholarship that does not count against the team’s scholarship limit. Basically, in order to “clear cap space” to sign better players, a coach would either need to find the kid a scholarship at another school or the school would need to agree to continue paying for his education.
9. Coaches should not be allowed to schedule practices or games between December 23 and December 27. College basketball coaches talk a lot about “family” so why not allow kids to spend some quality time with their actual families over the holidays?
10. Schools should be allowed to pay travel costs between home and school (up to 3 times per year, plus additional emergencies as designated by each school’s compliance office) for student-athletes who qualify for full or partial Pell Grants.
Having made these policy recommendations, let’s address some of the potential criticisms and concerns:
“You can’t allow kids to sign endorsement deals because that would give big schools a recruiting advantage over smaller schools.”
Mercer and Lehigh might have both beaten Duke on the basketball court, but they have never and will never beat Duke for a recruit. Never. And since the NCAA certainly isn’t going to abolish conferences and place strict limits on budgets, facilities, and TV appearances, let’s stop pretending that the recruiting playing field is even remotely level in the first place. Not to mention, it would be much easier (and cheaper) for Mercer and Lehigh to find their kids endorsement deals than it would be for them to convince ESPN to televise 2/3 of their games, or to hire private planes and charters, or to build $100,000,000 gymnasiums, so you could actually make the case this policy would potentially shrink the recruiting gap between the major-conference D1 schools and everyone else.
“These ideas would be a nightmare in terms of enforcement.”
Actually, they would make enforcement so much easier because the NCAA would only need to police malfeasances prior to the recruit arriving on campus for the start of classes. Once a kid arrives, he would be free to endorse products, accept appearance fees, sign autographs for money, etc- basically, it’s much easier to enforce rules when you have fewer rules to enforce.
“If a kid can’t meet a minimum academic standard, he doesn’t belong on a college campus.”
First off, in the modern educational era of “all test prep, all the time” I can make a very strong case that practically no public-school-educated kid is properly prepared academically for college. Also, the NCAA’s reliance on SAT and ACT scores to determine eligibility gives a distinct advantage to affluent children whose families can afford expensive test-prep programs like Princeton Review. Obviously, you can’t create an advantage for affluent children without creating a disadvantage for poor children, as if poor children haven’t encountered enough educational obstacles already. Also, it’s terribly ironic that while the NCAA despises the “diploma mill/fly-by-night” prep schools, these schools only came into existence as a response to the NCAA “eligibility” system in the first place. If the NCAA allowed member institutions to offer scholarships to partial qualifiers and non-qualifiers, not only would it be a huge win educationally for poor children, but a majority of the prep schools that most concern the NCAA would cease to exist.
“Why not just provide a stipend or allow schools to cover the full cost of attendance? Aren’t these recommendations more radical than they need to be?”
Paying some sort of stipend would open all sorts of Title IX issues and place a catastrophic financial hardship on the smaller D1 schools. Similarly, moving the scholarship model to “full cost of attendance” (as has been popularly suggested) carries several drawbacks as well. One, it would also cause a ruinous financial strain at the smaller schools. But additionally, it would likely cause student-athletes from disadvantaged households to be ineligible to receive Pell Grants. If this is in fact the case, covering the “full cost of attendance” would actually result in less financial help to the student-athletes who most need it. As for the radicalness of these proposals, severe problems often require severe solutions- and these ideas are way less radical than secession, which is where we’re headed if the NCAA doesn’t act boldly.
“Without the transfer penalty, every good low-major player would transfer to a bigger school, which is completely unfair to the coaches who recruited and developed him.”
First, that isn’t true in many cases. Lots of kids are happy where they are, and lots of kids are loyal people who appreciate the coaches who believed in them and helped them from the word go. However, it is probably true that without the penalty, more good players at the lower levels of D1 would transfer to bigger schools, and I agree that would be unfair to the coaches at those smaller D1 schools. However, do successful coaches at small D1 schools have to sit out a year when they jump ship to greener pastures? Is it fair to the kids who are left behind when coaches leave? Furthermore, should the NCAA be developing policies based on fairness to the coaches, or fairness to the kids? Plus, to again reiterate, ONLY football and basketball players have to sit a year when transferring. With all of this in mind, a basic sense of fairness dictates that the NCAA’s transfer rules must change.
Thanks very much for reading, and thanks to Coach Raveling for allowing me to share. Hopefully, the NCAA is able to admit that this growing threat is systemic, and that cosmetic, peripheral changes that leave the status quo largely in tact will not stem the tide toward the pending implosion. Mark Emmert would do well to remember that while signing the Magna Carta was a terribly bitter pill for King John to swallow, it was the morally right thing to do, and it ended the threat of a total civil war. Similarly, if the NCAA would adopt a meaningful Bill of Rights for student-athletes, it would likely end the threat of total dissolution. Let’s all hope the NCAA acts boldly before it’s too late.Download PDF