Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why Miami Should Get the Death Penalty

The NCAA should kill Miami's football program, for at least a year. Miami should not be allowed to field a football team until its program has righted itself. More importantly, the Hurricanes need to be an example. If schools and programs don't check their players and coaches, the NCAA should let it be known that the consequences will be dire.

What might stop the NCAA from imposing the Death Penalty is exactly why the NCAA should impose it. The Death Penalty would punish the enitre ACC, it would punish the 12 teams Miami is scheduled to play in 2011. It punishes the 5 teams that Miami was going to visit this year. It punishes other sports teams at the school, and the university as a whole. It even punishes the economy of southern Florida. Everyone suffers, from the rich owner of hotels near Sun Life Stadium to the cleaning crew picking up trash after the game.

All these people are not responsible for what Miami's football program has done. But from now on, they'll be watching that program. And so will the interest groups surrounding other big football programs across the country.

Currently, the NCAA tries to monitor and discipline all the schools and programs in the country. That's a tough task. That's over 10,000 D-IA scholarship football players to keep tabs on, plus over 4,000 scholarship basketball players in D-I. And that's just the big money making programs. With so many athletes at so many schools, there has to be a more effective system of supervision and discipline.

It's all about pressure. If Miami receives the Death Penalty, there'll be pressure on the football team to clean up. That pressure will come from the school's trustees, from the AD, from local politicians. And there'll be pressure to keep the program clean once it's resurrected.

Going forward, the NCAA needs to apply pressure to the conferences. When USC was banned from postseason play for 2 years, the then Pac-10 suffered by losing potential bowl revenue. However, the Pac-10 did not have to relinquish the ill-gotten bowl money that USC was paid for their 2005 Rose Bowl appearance. It might seem unfair to punish the whole conference for USC's transgressions, but isn't it also unfair to reward the whole conference for USC's transgressions?

If the NCAA fines conferences for what happens with individual programs, the conferences will suddenly become excellent watchdogs. The schools running clean programs will lean on those running dirty ones to straighten themselves out. The conferences will investigate their programs. And instead of the NCAA monitoring 120 football teams, each conference can focus on the 8 or 10 or 12 programs under their supervision. That's just so much more efficient.

No conference has been directly punished for the violations of a program under their authority. Not surprisingly, I can't recall a single time that a conference reported a violation to the NCAA. The conferences aren't being watchdogs, because there's no pressure on them to do so.

If the NCAA holds conferences more accountable for what goes on underneath their noses, the NCAA also needs to grant the conferences more power. Conferences should be allowed to withhold TV and bowl game revenues from teams that are violating the rules. And once Athletic Directors are threatened with that possibility, they're going to be watching their coaches like a hawk.

Once the ADs scare the coaches, the coaches will realize that their job depends on the players they coach obeying the rules. The coaches will no longer wait until there's an accusation of foul play until they get off their asses and investigate. They'll actively take an interest in the financial lives of the players under their charge. And when a defensive end suddenly has a new Lexus, they'll take notice.

If the NCAA applies pressure to the conferences, the conferences will apply pressure to their schools. The schools will apply pressure to their programs. The programs will then apply pressure on the coaches, who will apply pressure on the players.

A few weeks ago, Ohio State's football program went unpunished for the memorabilia violations of its players, and the failure of the head coach to report it. The NCAA claimed that the school didn't have knowledge of what was going on, and therefore should not be punished. That's bullshit. In my opinion, Ohio State's football program failed to sufficiently monitor its athletes. Isn't it the job of the program to ensure compliance with NCAA regulations?

As long as the NCAA continues to use passive and soft disciplinary inactions like that, there will be widespread violations of NCAA rules. OSU football was excused for not knowing what was going on in their own program. I believe that OSU, and every other program in the country, needs to be held responsible for what goes on under their supervision. That's the only way to make them actively monitor their athletes' behavior.

There's always going to be sketchy boosters and agents giving money, cars, and girls to athletes. But if the NCAA overhauls its disciplinary system, and holds conferences responsible for their schools, schools accountable for their programs, programs responsible for their athletes. then epidemics of corruption like that at Miami won't occur. There will be single, isolated incidents. But there won't be systems of negligence and abuse that go on for years and involve dozens of athletes and coaches.

It's all about applying pressure, and making people scared that they might lose some money.

Why College Athletes Shouldn't Get Paid

In the maelstrom of the Miami scandal, I've been hearing many people suggest that it's time for the NCAA to allow schools to pay their athletes. After all, athletes in some sports generate huge amounts of revenue. And while they receive a free education, they're hardly living the high life on their weekly food stipends. It all seems so unfair.

And after what's been happening at Miami and other schools, it seems like a system of paying college athletes would be better than random boosters hooking them up with prostitutes and cars. Athletic salaries would put cash in the players' pockets, which would make them less likely to seek and/or accept illegal "gifts" from outside their institution.

There's a few problems, though. While big football and basketball programs do create revenue streams, that money isn't going to an owner or to a corporation. It's going to a school. And that school takes that money and reinvests it within itself. The money produced by a big football program can help pay a tennis programs' travelling expenses, it can refurbish a soccer field, pay for a new Zamboni. Or outside of athletics, it can pay for the renovation of science labs, for campus security, for more teachers, for better computers.

While it might seem fair to compensate the athletes that play for revenue producing teams, it's impossible to pay them and not deprive funding for another athletic program or part of the school.

I believe that athletics are an important part of education. Do you know what Division-I school fields the most intercollegiate varsity teams? Harvard. They field teams in 41 sports, so they must feel as though sports are important, and surely not just for the revenue. I doubt that the Ivy League's TV contract is particularly lucrative.

The lessons learned by playing sports can be invaluable in the real world. That's why I have no problem with state and Federal money helping to fund athletics (most big-time athletic programs are at state schools, and even the one's in private schools receive Federal assistance). That's also why I believe in Title IX. Because if schools are going to argue that athletics is an important part of education, then athletics cannot be just for the boys to benefit from.

If athletics are important to the educational experience, then sports and teams that generate revenue shouldn't receive special treatment, especially at the expense of the teams that don't generate revenue. It might seem unfair to not pay a Heisman winning QB that wins a national title, but it's unfair if that QB received a $50,000 paycheck and subsequently the baseball team couldn't afford bats and helmets so the team had to fold.

There are unfortunate stories of athletes hamstrung by NCAA rules, and forced to drop out because even with a full scholarship, they're restricted from earning enough money on their own to support a parent or a child. Perhaps the NCAA can make special exceptions in such cases, and allow an athlete to get a job and earn money. But just because there are a few of these sad stories, doesn't mean that the whole SEC should receive a paycheck. There are countless regular people who cannot finish or even start their college education because of financial constrictions. Why should someone be an exception just because they know how to read a blitz?

I struggle to sympathize with the plight of a college athlete. While some generate revenue, there is no greedy, mustachioed owner exploiting them, pocketing all that revenue for his own evil schemes. All schools are non-profit organizations. These athletes receive a free education, which can be worth upwards of $100,000. That means that when they graduate, they'll have no student loans to pay off. And there's no shortage of companies run by alumni who will give a middle linebacker a job in middle management.

I've heard it suggested that the NCAA should allow boosters to pay athletes. After all, isn't that sort of like tipping a bartender for doing a good job? And that would allow the school to continue to reinvest the money it makes off of its big teams. But this creates a massive conflict of interests. In the Miami scandal, some boosters offered bonuses for big hits against Miami's rivals. That impacts a game. What if a booster offers a reward for sacking the QB? That might encourage a defensive lineman to rush upfield Dwight Freeney style, instead of listening to his coach and defending the run. That impacts the game.

If boosters pay athletes, those athletes are beholden to them. In other words, the boosters become the bosses. The coach loses power, the school loses power, the boosters can even discipline players by cutting salary. Most disturbing of all is the idea of boosters having an impact on how the game is played. And how long would it be before a gambler started paying players to do things?

Compensating athletes would likely suppress the amount of illegal payments that are made by boosters. What else could suppress such payments is a comprehensive overhaul of the disciplinary hierarchy of college sports. The schools and conferences need to step up and take charge over monitoring their athletes. The NCAA cannot possibly keep tabs on 120 football programs, each with 85 scholarship athletes (that's over 10,000 players). I'll discuss the measures the NCAA, conferences, and schools need to take in my next post: Why Miami Should Receive the Death Penalty.