A Question of Incentives: Why the NCAA Can't Enforce Its Own Rules

charlie adamsCorrespondent IMay 13, 2008

The fact that college sports are notorious for corruption in regards to recruiting, academics and booster gifting is no secret.

These practices have been occurring for a long time and will certainly continue in the foreseeable future. Why is this? The schools and NCAA hold all the power, but they are not allowed to use it. Why is this?

These questions go hand-in-hand and to separate them dilutes the argument and will lead to no real change. The current system has little to no incentives for individual players to abstain from accepting gifts from boosters, runners or agents.

Think of Reggie Bush: he allegedly accepted gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars while at USC. What happened to him? He got drafted No. 2 overall and he's a hero in New Orleans.

Chris Webber? Multi-millionaire who recently retired and is one of the greatest NBA power forwards of all-time.

O.J. Mayo? Looking at a top-five draft selection and absolutely no consequences for his behavior other than re-enforcing the pre-existing "character flag" surrounding his draft prospects.

All of these infamous college athlete stories show you one thing: why wouldn't they take money? They suffered no consequences and there was no reason to take the "high road."

In short: there are absolutely zero incentives for the player or the agent to obey the rules in their current form. The worst case scenario is that a football player (no one and done careers, like basketball) gets caught accepting gifts early in his career, before establishing his pro-potential, and he is removed from the team. He loses his scholarship, can't pay for school and is left with just his original gift. That is the only scenario where there is marginal incentive for athletes to abstain.

But how often does a player get caught early? Most often, the allegations come to light well after the infraction occurs and the punishment isn't levied until much later.

What would possibly stop O.J. Mayo from accepting money? He knew he was gone after one season in the NCAA before he started. Take the money and run. 

How do we stop this mentality? Reggie Bush served his mandatory playing time, took the money, avoided getting caught until he was already a Heisman-winner and is now happily in the NFL.

How do we prevent this from happening again? Simple: prevent them from playing professionally. This seems to be a ridiculous solution, but unless it comes to that point, the ultimate goal of playing professionally is not being blocked and the players aren't going to heed to the rules.

This of course, is the problem. You can't prevent players from pursuing a professional career because that is unconstitutional. The NCAA can limit eligibility when they detect, investigate, and rule that a violation has been committed.

But by this point, it's too late. The only true way to completely stop the money flowing is to make the punishment so effective that no player would dream of entertaining the idea of accepting gifts.

The only punishment that would do this would be to prevent them from making even more money in the future. This of course is illegal; so enjoy the games, let's keep turning our collective blind eye, but realize that most kids are on the right path and most schools turn away the runners before they get in the door.