NCAA Rules and Structure Falling Far Behind the Times And Falling Farther All the
Orlando, Fla. — It should have been a straight-forward case for the NCAA.
Texas A&M star quarterback Johnny Manziel appeared to have been paid to sign autographs, a clear violation of the NCAA’s amateur rules.
Yet, within a few days, NCAA president Mark Emmert was the one who was forced to apologize.
Perception of the organization is at an all-time low, with many voicing their lack of confidence in the group.
It’s easy to see why the NCAA is under fire.
Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, is facing possible suspension from play for allegedly accepting payment in exchange for signing memorabilia. It rekindled a long-time debate, with critics decrying the NCAA and its member schools make millions off of these athletes without paying them anything beyond tuition.
Many support the NCAA’s amateur rules, but their remarks were drowned out after ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas tweeted images from the NCAA’s online shop showing a simple search for the name Johnny Manziel would lead visitors to a page where they could purchase his Texas A&M jersey. More searches turned up more player jerseys. The NCAA previously ruled USC had to distance itself from Reggie Bush, but his signed memorabilia was available for purchase on the NCAA website.
Not only did Bilas uncover the NCAA’s dirty little secret, but he exposed the group for being more concerned over money than common sense.
In an effort to contain the latest mess, Emmert announced Thursday the NCAA would discontinue selling school-and-player related merchandise on its website.
“I don’t believe we should have been in that business,” he said.
He later added the sale of the merchandise was not “appropriate” for the NCAA.
The move is just the latest in a long line of calamities that have followed the NCAA in recent months, including gaffes during investigations of UCLA and Miami programs.
In the case of Miami, it’s been close to three years since the NCAA was notified of possible improper benefits provided Hurricanes athletes by former booster Nevin Shapiro and still the organization is no closer to a decision. The investigation itself has, in itself, become a comedy of errors for the NCAA.
Some of the evidence in the case was unethically obtained, forcing Emmert to briefly halt the probe while the NCAA investigated itself. Investigators were fired and the compliance office was restructured before the case against Miami proceeded.
It’s not the first time the NCAA has had to sanction itself.
Take the case of Shabazz Muhammad. The former UCLA men’s basketball star was being investigated for possible improper benefits when the boyfriend of a lead NCAA investigator spoke about the case in public. That investigator was fired and eventually Muhammad was cleared.
“I think there’s a perception out there that there are sometimes different rules for different people or there’s never a clear, defined message,” ESPN college football analyst Tom Luginbill told the Orlando Sentinel.
Luginbill points to the case against Oregon. The Ducks only received what many considered a light slap on the wrist despite an NCAA ruling the school paid a recruiting expert.
“I think where people get disheartened or disfranchised with the NCAA,” Luginbill said. “There were a lot of people who said, ‘How did they only get what they got?’ I think that’s where people get frustrated.
“It’s almost like college officiating. There’s no consistency from a crew from week to week and it’s very similar to how the NCAA operates in many instances.”
SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 commissioners have all voiced their concerns over the direction of the NCAA. Some, like the ACC’s John Swofford and the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby, have suggested that it’s time for “transformative change.”
“We have supported and continue to support the NCAA as the appropriate governing organization for intercollegiate athletics,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said during the SEC Media Days. “But at the same time, however, we will continue to push for changes we believe are in the best interest of our student athletes.”
Emmert can’t ignore the power brokers from the Big 5 conferences when they start beating the drums of change. They lead the leagues with all of the money and all of the power. They are the ones who are looking to gain the most from reform.
The heat is on, and Emmert is beginning to feel it.
The low point came in April when, during a news conference for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Emmert became combative and defiant while answering questions from the media about the way he handled problems.
“I know you’re disappointed,” Emmert said, “but I’m still here.”
Emmert’s tune changed during the next few months, especially when the questions came from conference commissioners instead of reporters. In fact, he’s gone out of his way to become more agreeable when it comes to changes for the future.
But just what is wrong with the NCAA?
“I think they are seriously behind the time,” said Gail Sideman, a national sports publicist. “Twenty years ago, (the NCAA) was five years behind and now it’s 40 years behind.”
“It has the interest of student athletes in mind if it was 1960,” she added. “I think they are seriously behind the time.”
Sideman said the NCAA can’t keep up with everything from technology to recruiting and it’s frustrating school officials across the country. The NCAA rule book, for instance, is close to 500 pages.
“Who in their right mind can digest that, let alone a university compliance officer,” Sideman said.
To his credit, Emmert has acknowledged that the NCAA sometimes gets bogged down in legislation and proposed a more streamlined version of the rule book. Yet even when the organization tried to simplify things, it only seemed to create more chaos.
The NCAA Rules Committee introduced new recruiting legislation earlier this spring that was supposed to make things easier for recruits and coaches. Instead, it caused major concern about the pressure it would put on high school athletes and was tabled until it could be restructured.
So what can be done?
“I think the thought, by many now, is that maybe the governance of college athletics isn’t needed through the NCAA,” Luginbill said. “Whether it is or it isn’t, there’s a lot of people of believe they can formulate a better plan.”
Some suggest a change in personnel, most likely at the top with Emmert himself.
Sideman suggested the NCAA break responsibilities into different divisions, forming new groups to individually handle player safety, monetary issues, organization and legislation.
“All of these cannot function in the current system,” Sideman added. “It’s overwhelming to the NCAA staff.”
Whatever the solution, the one that is certain is that change is on the way.