8 Solutions to Fix the NCAA and Improve College Football

Bill NCorrespondent IJuly 26, 2010

8 Solutions to Fix the NCAA and Improve College Football

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      "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

    Recent reports have shown that the NCAA is unfair when it comes to some infraction findings and sanctions. An analysis of the root cause of these problems results in a list of eight solutions that would improve college sports, especially football.

    These fixes would improve the reputation of the NCAA and lower administrative costs, significantly reduce costly major infractions and sanctions for member colleges, minimize punishments to the athletes who had nothing to do with violations, more fairly compensate athletes, and increase fan interest. Everyone wins!

    Here are the related articles that give the basis for this report:

    Analyzing NCAA Hypocrisy – Root Cause and Solutions - examines the hypocrisy of the NCAA and how they "profit" at the expense of athletes, especially those from lower income families, and these archaic rules result in most major infractions.

    Is the NCAA Capable of Fair Treatment of Infractions and Sanctions? – identifies the reasons the NCAA is incapable of conducting fair evaluations of alleged infractions and sanctions. As of July 25, 2010, over 82% voted that the NCAA does not fairly evaluate alleged infractions and issue appropriate sanctions.

    10 Reasons Why USC Football NCAA Sanctions are Not Fair – details the reasons that USC football NCAA sanctions were not fair including errors, convoluted logic, conflict of interests, NCAA failure to control sports agents/marketers, no precedent for several key football findings and sanctions, punished the wrong people, and the appeals process is designed to be unsuccessful.

    While the recent USC case is used as an example in the above articles, many other colleges who receive NCAA sanctions believe they were unfairly treated. There have been 11 appeals decided since 2008 and only one was upheld. The fact that 151 division I colleges and one entire conference (as of June 18, 2010) have received NCAA sanctions at least once demonstrates that there is a systemic problem.

    Most of the NCAA sanctions are a result of archaic “amateurism” rules that do not reflect the semi-pro nature of Division I college football (and some other sports). These rules are designed to maximize "profits" for the NCAA and its member institutions at the expense of the athletes who generate all the revenue. The Olympics solved similar problems over 20 years ago.

    College football is much different than when the NCAA amateur rules were written—some head football coaches make over $4 million per year (more than the annual cost of all football scholarships at a college), some colleges bring in over $80 million per year in football revenues and many times that in related alumni donations, and the NCAA collects revenues over $700 million per year.

    Congress has given the NCAA tax-exempt status which is hard to believe given the "profits" realized from TV revenues and the failure of the NCAA to govern fairly per its mission statement.

    The athletes receive the same college scholarship that has been available for decades even though a recent study proved that it doesn't cover an average of $3,000 per year in education related expenses. The NCAA controls the number of scholarships available in various sports and they have been reduced in the past.

    This is compounded by the fact that football athletes are deprived of their right to become professional for three years, and the NCAA does not allow them to have a job during the school year like other students. Most of the athletes who want to be NFL stars do not attend college for the education.

    Other problems are caused by the NCAA’s failure to control sports agents/marketers, and lack of requirements for coaches and athletes to sign agreements that hold them financially responsible for NCAA violations even after they leave college.

    The Jerry Tarkanian Supreme Court decision forced the NCAA to use due process for their handling of infractions. They also outlawed “hearsay” but the errors in the USC case have demonstrated that this still happens. There is no oversight of the NCAA infraction process to ensure fairness and consistency.

    There are specific problems with the NCAA infraction review process that can be fixed so that the results are fair, and any appeals are handled impartially with rules that make sense. Many of these problems are documented in the above two articles: Is the NCAA Capable of Fair Treatment of Infractions and Sanctions? and 10 Reasons Why USC Football NCAA Sanctions are Not Fair.

    The BCS fiasco is not addressed because the NCAA isn’t responsible for it.

    Here are the eight solutions to fix the NCAA and improve Division I college football. Be sure to read the Overtime–Reader Solutions that has been added after Solution No. 8 to reflect B/R reader comments.

    P.S.  Or maybe it is time for Congress to fix these problems as discussed in the article:  Going after the NCAA's 'underbelly'

1. Help the Athletes Especially Those from Low Income Families

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    College football is the “minor leagues” of the NFL. There is a tremendous amount of money involved with ticket sales, TV revenue, and alumni donations (this can exceed all the other sources of revenue but it is not isolated to sports).

    However, the athletes who generate all this revenue receive only the same scholarship that has existed for decades, and the total annual value of this is less than the head football coaches annual salary at some colleges.

    The NCAA and its member institutions do not want to share more of the ever increasing revenue with the athletes. This video discusses how the NCAA takes advantage of athletes.

    Many athletes come from lower income families who do not get financial support from them. Due to the time commitments for sports and academics, they do not have time to earn sufficient extra money like many other students. The majority of major NCAA sanctions are caused by an athlete taking money. Often there are not large sums of money involved.

    A recent study by Ithaca College and the National College Players Association concluded that the average athletic scholarship falls $3,000 short of the actual cost of attendance per year. 

    There have been lots of articles written about paying athletes, especially football ones. There are pros and cons, but as B/R reader Edna Thomas so well said in her July 26 comments, it is not practical or legal to pay only football players for two primary reasons. First, Title IX precludes it unless all male and female sports get the same treatment because this would be viewed as “affording special consideration to football beyond what is allowed by the Javits amendment.” Secondly, changing the NCAA Principle of Amateurism to reflect semi-pro college football would cause the tax-exempt status of university football programs to be lost, and donations made or funds raised for football would not be considered charitable donations.

    It would be unaffordable to pay all athletes because most athletic departments already operate in the red.

    The non-profit NCAA has about $400 million in net assets, growing at a rate of about $40 million per year. They also spend a significant amount of their $29 million administrative budget on investigations and Infractions Hearings and Appeals. There is no reason that the NCAA needs most of this $400 million, and the administrative budget can be reduced if the solutions suggested in this article are implemented.

    This money could be better used to help athletes, especially those from low income families who are at a disadvantage as discussed previously. Many college scholarships are based on need, so this is an existing principle.

    B/R Senior Writer Steven Resnick, wrote on December 5, 2008, Should College Athletes Be Paid? The Answer Is Clearly No. He said:

    “Beyond school-issues scholarships the NCAA is funneling $750 million dollars over 11 years into funds that will directly benefit athletes. During the 2004 school year 11.33 million dollars worth of funds was available to need athletes and the money went towards clothing, emergency travel, educational and medical expenses.

    During the 2004-2005 school year there was a fund that included any of the athletes another $19.2 million dollars that can be used for an array of personal needs, and lastly the NCAA spent an additional $10 million dollars on catastrophic-injury insurance.

    Another fund that isn't really known about is the Special Assistance Fund which was established in 1991. It was designed to help athletes cover basic or emergency expenses. An athlete is allocated $500 per year. Yet, for other "essential expenses" such as academic supplies, medical, dental costs not covered by insurance, and family emergencies there's no actual limit from the fund.

    The Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund which was established in 2003 is available to all athletes regardless of financial need and whether they are still eligible for their sport or no longer playing due to injury. The fund can be used for traveling home, computers, other school supplies, clothing, medical expenses for spouses or dependents, summer school, degree-completion programs, and professional development.”

    These programs are a step in the right direction, but these programs are not well publicized and the NCAA has a lot more money that is available. At least $360M of the existing $400M net assets could be put aside in an endowment fund to help athletes, especially those from low income families. Each year the NCAA could increase it by the approximate $40M increase in net assets. These funds could be used to either increase the above programs and/or add new programs to assist athletes from low income families.

    Lonnie White, Senior NCAA Writer, wrote Solution Long Overdue for Problem of Agents and College Sports. White suggested: “…NCAA to create a fund for athletes who are considered high draft picks to be able to borrow from. The money pot could easily be put together by professional teams and agents, who pay for controlled access time with players during the season. Everything would be regulated and student-athletes would be taught about the agent process from the start of their college careers.” This might help eliminate the current sports agent problem for many athletes.

    It would also be possible to allow college athletes to collect endorsement income from companies, however, that would be difficult to control and could be confused with boosters.

    The Olympics changed its Olympic Charter in 1986 to allow all athletes to participate, including those who are paid. Payments vary based on country and sport, but for the better athletes they may include income and sponsor endorsements in addition to housing/meals and training.

    A radical approach to the NCAA rules is changing them so they are no violations for athletes receiving cash and gifts from anyone willing to give it to them. This was proposed by ESPN.com writer Patrick Hruby on July 26 in Fix for NCAA violations: Legalize 'em! This article link has been included if for no other reason that it is a very different approach.

    Jack Bechta, an agent and former scholarship athlete, writes It's Time for the NCAA to pay up.  He makes excellent points but ignores the Title IX issues.

2. Control Sports Agents/Marketers

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    Another big problem that needs to be addressed is sports agents/marketers that are not controlled by the colleges, and they receive no benefit from them.

    There are many recent reports that the NCAA is investigating East Coast schools for benefits given to their athletes by sports agents. It wouldn’t be surprising to start hearing reports about more West Coast colleges. The NCAA needs to fix this problem soon or Congress may fix them in ways they won’t like in Indy.

    The NFL benefits from the colleges who provide almost all the athletes for their sports. They have the ability to control sports agents/marketers because they license and certify them, and could work together with the NCAA to solve this problem.

    The NCAA should be able to identify sports agents/marketers who violated NCAA rules, and the NFL should be required to discipline them appropriately.

    If sports agents/marketers violate the NCAA (or NFL) rules, then their license should be terminated or they should be fined. If the currently licensing does not allow the NFL to fine them, then this should be changed. Sports marketers are not currently licensed so this should be changed so they can be controlled also.

    This would help protect the athletes and colleges from sports agents/marketers who break the NCAA rules without any recourse.

    Sam Farmer wrote an article in the LA Times on July 25, 2010, and he said “A. J. Smith, general manager of the San Diego Chargers, said he thinks NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would try to help in any way possible if the NCAA were to approach him about ways the league help in avoid the next [sports agent] scandal.” So, it appears that the NCAA has not even approached the NFL about solutions.

    In the Lonnie White article Solution Long Overdue for Problem of Agents and College Sport. he talks about the fact that the sports agent problem has been around college football for a long time and he personally experienced it from multiple agents in 1986 while playing college football. He said “Without getting too deep, the main reason why athletes get caught up accepting illegal benefits is because they feel exploited. With the NCAA generating more money than ever, skillful agents find it easy to lure athletes with cash, gifts and other perks.”

    White also reported on Alabama, which is currently being looked at by the NCAA for NFL-bound defensive lineman Marcel Dareus, who reportedly accepted money and gifts from an agent. He said:

    “Alabama, the defending BCS national champion, was slapped on the wrist by the NCAA for breaking the rules in 2009 and rival schools have accused the Tide of cheating for years. This week, Alabama coach Nick Saban came up with a solution. Instead of working harder to educate his players on the keeping within rules, Saban wants to keep the NFL Players Association and agents out all together. ‘What the NFL Players Association and the NFL need to do is if any agent breaks a rule and causes ineligibility for a player, they should suspend his [agent's] license for a year or two,’ Saban told reporters. ‘I'm about ready for college football to say, Let's just throw the NFL out. Don't let them evaluate players. Don't let them talk to players. Let them do it at the combine. If they are not going to help us, why should we help them?’ But Saban also went on to say that he believes the NCAA should ‘take schools off the hook’ for the actions of agents and players.”

    White concluded with:
    “For the NCAA to really be taken seriously, it needs to show consistency. Discipline for having agents provide illegal benefits should be the same at every school. It should not matter if a program turns itself in or not. But that's too much work. It's much easier for the NCAA to cut deals than to have every school go the distance fighting accusations like USC did. Besides, the NCAA knows better than anyone that players receiving illegal benefits have been a factor at nearly every successful football program for decades. It's always been a matter of putting in the effort to find out.”

3. Change Coach & Athlete Agreements to Allow Fines Post College

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    The NCAA should require that coaches and athletes sign agreements with standard language to allow them to be fined for violating NCAA rules even after they leave college sports. This is in addition to what the NCAA can currently do to coaches and athletes.

    B/R reader 78Lion wrote on July 26, “I love the idea of a penalty for cheaters that hits them in the pocket book that would equal a multiple of the monetary compensation they illegally took and/or a multiple of their scholarship value.”

    B/R reader rod wood wrote on July 26, “Another suggestion would be to limit the salaries a college player receives when he moves to the pros… If a player sees that his college career would be compromised, I think he would sit up and take notice and probably do what he can to protect that big money contract in his future. He still would be eligible to be drafted and join a team but his salary would be cut off. League minimums are still significant so you could probably go even lower and even make the restriction good for his first three or four years in the league. I think owners would be game seeing as how they don't have to do much and probably might be saving a buck at the same time.”

    He also said, “Another option would be for the leagues to make a rules violating college athlete ineligible for the pro league's post-season. He can play during the regular season but how about leaving him off the playoff roster? Like I said above, you can make the restriction good for a number of years. And if the restriction includes not permitting the spot to be filled by another player, I'm sure teams would back off on selecting/drafting these guys.”

    Some of the above solutions require the cooperation of the NCAA and NFL (and NBA), which needs to be improved.

    Colleges should also be able to sue athletes or coaches who violate NCAA rules that result in sanctions based on the financial impact to the college.

    The NCAA should attempt to maximize penalties for the guilty parties, and minimize them for future athletes that had nothing to do with violations.

4. Establish Standards for Rules Infraction Findings

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    The NCAA has rules that are the basis for violations. However, it is not always clear what must be proven to determine that a violation has occurred, or standards for determining the appropriate sanction for a violation.

    This leads to inconsistent and sometimes unprecedented findings by the Infractions Committee.

    One example was the finding in the USC case that a sports marketer who hired a USC athlete as an $8 per hour summer intern after approval by the NCAA was a booster (representative of the institution’s athletic interest) and constituted illegal benefits.

    This was unprecedented especially since the NCAA had approved it and never told USC that the sports marketer was considered a booster.

    It would be very unfair if similar unprecedented findings were made for other colleges.

    The NCAA needs to establish clear standards so that the Infractions Committee has a consistent basis for their findings.

5. Establish Criteria to Make Sanctions Consistent

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    The NCAA mission statement requires them to "govern fairly."  The NCAA enforcement of rules is necessary to ensure an even playing field.  Unfortunately the NCAA inconsistent treatment of violations and sanctions resultants in a more uneven playing field so they are making the problem worse not better.

    The NCAA does not have written criteria for sanctions. This allows the Infractions Committee to give any sanction that they feel is appropriate, without any criteria to ensure that they are consistent.

    The only justification that the NCAA offers for their sanctions is "every case is different."  It is clear that the NCAA feels that they can do anything they want, and criteria for sanctions would make them treat colleges fairly which is something they don't want to do.

    B/R reader 78Lion suggested on July 26, “If a member institution finds and reports a violation, then cooperates fully with any subsequent NCAA investigation, their penalties should not be as stiff …” If this is the NCAA policy then the criteria should reflect the reduction for those situations so they are also consistent.

    Inconsistent sanctions cause the public and member colleges to not trust the NCAA and perceive that it is unfair.

    The NCAA needs to establish clear criteria to determine the appropriate sanction for each violation.

    This will ensure that future sanctions are consistent and fair, and allow everyone to understand what is at stake.

6. NCAA Investigation and Infraction Committee Process Improvements

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    The Supreme Court ruled in the 1988 Jerry Tarkanian case that the NCAA needs to follow due process in their investigation and infraction committee process. As stated in Wikipedia – Jerry Tarkanian: Tarkanian and the NCAA:

    “The enforcement staff was allowed to build cases on hearsay and shared few of their findings with the target school. The resulting negative publicity led the NCAA to institute a clearer separation between the enforcement staff and the infractions committee, as well as a system for appeals. Also, hearsay evidence was no longer admissible in infractions cases.”

    The NCAA adopted rules to prevent hearsay, yet the NCAA accepted hearsay from Lloyd Lake in the USC case to connect USC to the Bush violations.

    For example, he told the NCAA that he had illegally recorded telephone conversations to back up his statements about Todd McNair. The NCAA never listened to the tapes but accepted the fact that he had tapes to give credibility to his testimony about McNair. As it turned out, there was nothing on the tapes that was related to McNair.

    The NCAA also believed his version of a 2.5 minute phone call to McNair even though there were errors involved that were never addressed. No one could prove what was discussed on that phone call, yet the NCAA fully relied on it to make their finding against USC.

    The NCAA needs to follow their rules, but there is no oversight to ensure that this is done.

    Adding a representative from the targeted college as a non-voting member of the Infractions Committee would help solve this problem.

    Participation by the targeted college representative will help ensure that the rules are followed and that all the facts are properly addressed, or the Infractions Committee leader will know that the targeted college has the information to successfully appeal.

    This would also serve to make sure that the targeted college has accurate information to address in the Infractions Hearing.

    The NCAA does not allow a subpoena process to get witnesses to testify. This may not be possible for those who are not participating in college sports. However, as a minimum it should include all current and former athletes or employees of the college and an appropriate provision should be included in all agreements with athletes or college employees.

7. Eliminate Infractions Committee Member Conflict of Interest

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    Currently representatives from competitors of the targeted college are allowed to serve or even lead the Infractions Committee.

    These representatives have a conflict of interest because their college could benefit if sanctions are issued to the targeted college.

    These conflicts include recruiting, bowl, and possibly television advantages that could result in more success and money for the representative’s college.

    The NCAA should not allow any conflicts of interest on the Infraction Committee.

    No representative who can vote should be from the targeted college’s competitors for the sport(s) being investigated. This includes not only those employed by the competitor’s college, but anyone who makes contributions or regularly attends athletic events at that college.

    P.S. ESPN reported on April 25, 2011, that nine of the 11 members of an NCAA panel that will help decide the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl's fate attended a bowl-sponsored retreat that included free meals, resort rooms and golf outings.  Of course, the NCAA sees no conflict of interest, which demonstrates how corrupt they are.  First for taking advantage of the free retreat, and then assigning the people that received these benefits to a case against the people who gave it to them.

8. Improve the Appeals Process

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    The NCAA selects the members of the Appeal Committee, and they are often peers of the representatives on the Infractions Committee with existing relationships. Naturally they don’t want to offend the representatives on the Infractions Committee or the NCAA.

    The NCAA has upheld only one of the 11 appeals since January 2008 when the NCAA changed their rules to make appeals more difficult to be successful (see USC faces an uphill battle in appeal by Baxter Holmes, LA Times). The offended party must now show "the penalty is excessive such that it constitutes an abuse of discretion" by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

    But, this is extremely subjective and the NCAA appeals committee can merely conclude that they don’t feel there was an abuse of discretion.

    There should be an independent Appeals Committee consisting of members who have no relationships to representatives on the Infractions Committee or the NCAA.

    The appeals process should be changed to ensure a fair process to determine if the Infractions Committee made findings or sanctions inconsistent with NCAA rules, standards for violations, criteria for sanctions, or made other mistakes impacting any sanctions.

    The Infractions Committee is much more likely to produce fair and reasonable results if there is a credible appeals process that is effective.

Overtime - Reader Suggested Solutions to Improve College Football

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    Some changes have been made to the 8 solutions in this article based on reader comments. These readers are identified in the article and changes incorporated.

    This Overtime section was added to capture other reader suggestion solutions to improve college football. The reader and date are identified along with the suggested solution.

    ndjos1 - July 26: “I would add the elimination of conference refs and have NCAA refs.”

    USCFootball.com - Various bloggers on this fan site have suggested that the enforcement part of the NCAA be taken away from them, and made a separate independent organization. The NCAA refuses to have consistent sanctions, and passed rules in May 2011 to not require past precedent to be used to determine sanctions.  A national PAC is being formed for this purpose.  The USC case will be used to show how corrupt and ineffective the NCAA enforcement process has become, but there are many other cases that show the inconsistent treatment of schools.

    Pete Fiutek of CollegeFootballNews.com: June 8, 2011:  I’ve written and said this in every way possible. NCAA, it’s time. Just let the players make money.  The schools don’t have money lying around to increase the stipend – the extra TV money should go into the underfunded academic programs.  Really, was it so bad that Terrelle Pryor allegedly made money from signing things? (By the way, I write that in plain view of the Pryor-signed football given to me as a gift last year.) Is it really that bad if a booster wants to take a player out to dinner, or hand him $100, or give him a car? Is it really morally wrong to make a deal with a marketing company while still in college, sell a t-shirt for some extra cash, or go to a party thrown by an agent? Of course not.  NCAA, it’s time to change the focus of your mission. Instead of trying to police all the minutiae, realize what’s truly important. Do more research on the concussion problems. Finally start doing something about the underreported and completely unnoticed steroid and performance enhancing drug problem. Work harder at helping players be students. Basically, focus your energy elsewhere.