The End of the NCAA

The media has been hot with stories about the NCAA and it’s overreach, cartel-like moves and how it treats its athletes. Two writers, Mr. Taylor Branch in the Atlantic Magazine and later Mr. Joe Nocera, in the New York Times, both have written about the abusive nature of this non-profit organization.

For a lot of us in the sports industry, this is not totally new but it was stunning to finally see someone take a journalistic view about this group and out right airing the dirty and hidden laundry. As someone who has faced the NCAA in the Federal Court system (1993, Blue Star v. NCAA) I know how cunning and vindictive the NCAA can be either outright or hidden. I could sit and also write about the NCAA and talk about the system of recruiting, enforcement, overreach, rules, adjudication, economics, marketing, selective targeting, pettiness, hidden doors, special groups and negative voices. Combine all of this with the economics of basketball compared to all the other NCAA sports and we have a immense and almost impossible flow chat and tale for anyone to totally grasp. The attention span and desire of most people to sit and understand this is few. This is why Mr. Branch and Mr. Nocera have my respect cause they tried from their positions to fight the money, influences and norm to bring this to light.

Some of the discussion out there is what is the future of the NCAA? Paid athletes, Title IX, coaches salaries, athletic budgets, university economics are parts of that discussion too. What I am offering up is a possible new vision of what college athletics could be if the realities of all of what is above was finally dealt with in the courts, legal and public – The End of the NCAA.

If you get rid of one body, what takes it’s place? You never get out of your car until you got your next ride ready. Well, the moves towards that new ride are coming together as this past fall saw a number of big football conferences changing members and float feelers towards combining their conferences for clout and impact. Why, because the football money goes to the conferences, the basketball money goes to the NCAA. That means the NCAA and its basketball coaches have a more vested interest in this particular sport – from top to bottom. What’s the old line – don’t mess around with someone’s money?

Make no mistake – this is all about money and the resources (players) it takes to make it and the added conditions (coaching, facilities, name, conference, support, schedule, marketing, etc.) for the “resources” – like fruit – bear forth and win games.

So, with all this money – which is not going away – and the desire to change the game, fix this system, come up with something better I have an idea for the future of intercollegiate sports that is radical, provocative and necessary.

The first thing is that all intercollegiate sports as we know it is over. The second is that all the universities – their choice – get out of the sports-entertainment business. The third is for all parties to recognize the nature of college age or level sports in relationship to the professional sports leagues. With that said, there is no more need for the NCAA, its rule book, bloated bureaucracy and financial management – we need a new system.

And, here it is, neat and simple. The new landscape of collegiate athletics would take it back to the days when it was a part of the physical education departments. All schools would get out of the scholarship, conference and mega sports business. Students wishing to play sports of any kind within the university would be managed through a sport-club system run by the students and coached by teachers, coaches within the university pay structure. Schools then would able to align themselves on geographical and population terms as all schools would have the same kind of student-athlete (no scholarships) and same funding (none, except for sport operations and coaching). Coaches would no longer get salaries that are more than the school president, nor have clout to jump around as this is similar to a teaching post, not a money-run. Students would now choose to play sports based on their desire, not because they got a ride. If more males want to play more than females in a sport or vice versa, then so be it – no Title IX impact since there is no scholarships and opportunity would depend how the sport club structures itself. The specter of Football and that budget would not longer be hanging around. This is the “pure” kind of sports that was envisioned before it became the mega-monster it is today.

What happened to the scholarships? Well, they’re still there, those students are still going to class but they are not playing for the school, they’re playing for the Sports Foundation which provides and pays the university for that athlete’s seat. Where did they get their money? Very simply – the same sports-entertainment complexes that feed the collegiate sports monster now. Each school would have the “right” to help create a non-for-profit athletic foundation which pays for all salaries, costs, and scholarships for just the two sports that are the meat of any argument – football and basketball. Three sports – football, men’s and women’s basketball. That’s it and that’s were the money is despite an argument for women’s basketball being throw out by a few men. The student would go be a student and then the athlete would then go be an athlete. The charade of today’s student athlete would go away. You’re either a student athlete or a student who plays club sports. The system would be exactly what it really is today without the pretense. Each school would have the ability to create an athletic foundation or allow someone to do this. This “athletic foundation” would then cut the deal for the TV contracts along with other like-minded schools (hmm, similar to today) and this body would then pay the school for each student scholarship, pay sport salaries and expenses and for use of the facilities, including game day rent. The universities would then allow whatever athletic group they want to deal with to “rent” their name for a period at a heft fee and also control the tickets for facilities they own or have and spilt on facilities they don’t have – which is rare.
This is one sane way to deal with the complexities of the out of control money that is being disguised as intercollegiate sports. It would get sport under the university name and control in line with the concepts of education and allowing and acknowledging that the major sports of football and basketball because of digital media has become a cash cow.

The systems in place would still be in place but operating on a different plane. Students would be students playing club sports while those “on scholarship” wouldn’t be unfairly taken advantage of financially as a ‘new” scholarship would entail sufficient funding to acknowledge these athletes can’t have a job and bring money to the school-foundation. Anywhere from 60-90 athletes in this foundation along with staff similarly paid would recognize that today’s sports is big financial business. Those colleges allowing “rental” of their name under contract would then benefit financially, socially and philosophically by having the nature of college club sports be for the student like it was before the tv age.

Is this a perfect model? No. There is a lot of fine print to deal with but this is a great starting point. What makes this argument more compelling is that the big-time conference are looking at doing something similar but not this drastic by banding together to create mega-conference for more financial clout. These super conferences would then have the ability by mean of critical mass get the kind of media contracts they would want without sharing it with the NCAA leadership and today members. Why not have the entire pie instead of half?

The NCAA is facing a lawsuit over the use of athlete images which is working its way through the legal system. If this gets to the Supreme Court, this kind of loss for the NCAA and its members could be staggering. What better way to deflect and delay any negative judgment then by jumping ship from the NCAA and creating your own super leagues? Let those left holding the legal and financial bag. Plus, with the advent of big super tv screens showing sporting events in 3d, the future of tv media and money is only going to get bigger.

This entire thing is a possible look at the future when people and the universities are tired of today’s hypocritical system that refuses to acknowledge the reality of money. The student and the system today are unfairly rewarded. This is an attempt to reward those who bring in the bacon while recognizing the traditional and necessary educational mission of our universities and college.

Mike Flynn – Director of Blue Star Basketball and U.S. Junior Nationals, Publisher of Blue Star Media.

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