Puzzled by the NCAA

Posted: December 2, 2010 in NCAA Football
Tags: , , , , ,

In 2004 and 2005, Reggie Bush received “gifts” from a sports agent while playing at USC.  In November of 2007 – over a year-and-a-half after Reggie Bush was drafted by the Saints – he was sued by that sports agent for not repaying these gifts (valued at over $290,000).  In June of 2010, the NCAA announced the following major sanctions against USC for Reggie Bush’s actions:

  • Vacating the final two wins of the 2004 season (including the 2005 Orange Bowl national title game)
  • Four years of probation
  • Bowl game banishment in 2010 and 2011
  • Loss of 30 scholarships over the course of three years
  • Permanent disassociation of Reggie Bush and the university

It took the NCAA nearly three years to wrap up the investigation from the time that the lawsuit was made public.  The sanctions were imposed nearly five years after the rule infraction occurred, punishing those that were not even a part of the team when it happened.  Reggie Bush, meanwhile, was already earning a lot of money as an NFL player by the time that the NCAA concluded their very “un-CSI-like” investigation.

One can’t help but wonder how an organization that took so long to conclude the Reggie Bush investigation was able to clear Auburn’s, Cam Newton, in less than a day.  In fact, they cleared Cam Newton so quickly that even the 24/7 sports media was unaware that he had been declared ineligible by Auburn for the SEC title game against South Carolina this coming weekend.  While the NCAA hasn’t officially closed the investigation, their decision insures that any potential punishment in the future will be dealt (once again) long after the fact to people that had nothing to do with the investigation.

The case against Cam Newton differs from the case against Reggie Bush in a few ways.  First of all, it seems that no money ever changed hands.  The impropriety that Cam Newton is involved in stems from his father’s efforts to be compensated by Mississippi State to get Newton to choose Mississippi State over other schools, whereas Reggie Bush’s family did receive money while he was playing for USC.  More importantly, it seems as though Cam Newton was totally unaware of his father’s actions, giving him “plausible deniability.”

Reggie Bush got paid.  Cam Newton seemingly did not.  Either way, the NCAA rules against college athletes receiving money reeks of irony given that money is the engine that drives college sports.

TCU is going to the Big East so that they can automatically qualify for BCS Bowl games (which pay significantly more to its participants than non-BCS Bowl games).  They were invited to the Big East in part because of their successful program, but mostly to tap into a lucrative television market.  TCU wasn’t invited into the Big 12 (a perfect geographical fit) because their presence wouldn’t increase the value of the Big 12 television contract due to their proximity to existing schools in the conference.

There is no logical reason why NCAA football hasn’t instituted a playoff system to determine a national champion, other than to preserve the integrity of the revenue-generating bowl games.  As much as TCU (like any other university) would like to win a national championship, their move to the Big East is driven by their desire to get their piece of the revenue pie.

The bottom line is that NCAA sports (especially football and basketball) generate huge revenues for universities across the country.  Student athletes do benefit in the form of scholarships, but they are not allowed to accept so much as a sandwich without violating some archaic rule about eligibility.  And yet, somehow EA Sports was able to cut a deal with the NCAA to produce games featuring the likeness of student athletes as long as they don’t use their actual names.

I am not in favor of seeing people benefit from breaking rules, but I also think that it is extremely hypocritical of schools to use student athletes to pad their bottom line with no form of payment other than scholarships.

Clearly, the NCAA has proven that it is not capable of issuing swift justice to those that violate their rules, which means that others will usually suffer the consequences for violations that they had no part of.

We’ve seen Reggie Bush stripped of his Heisman Trophy, and his team stripped of their championship long after he violated NCAA policy.  Cam Newton is the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy, and has an excellent chance to win the national championship.  This story is starting to feel all too familiar.

The worst part of this situation is that the NCAA seems to have opened a mile-wide loophole which has the potential to cause chaos in the future.  If the family of a student athlete is allowed to break the rules while the athlete is allowed to skate by due to “plausible deniability” (as long as they have no knowledge of the violation) there will be many more incidents like this in the future, and the NCAA will be powerless to stop it.


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