9 NCAA Reforms That Need to Happen

The year 2011 was a disaster for the NCAA. Rules violations seemed to come every week from every corner. NCAA President Mark Emmert knows he’s on the hot seat in 2012 and that things have to change dramatically to get college sports on track. While he’s got his reforming hat on, there are several changes we think he needs to make a priority, for the good of students, fans, and school programs.

  1. Institute NCAA-run playoffs

    Ask any college football fan on the street what change they’d most like to see from the Bowl Championship Series, and 85 out of 100 will give you a one-word answer: playoffs. Year after year, instead of giving fans what they want — a single elimination tournament involving the country’s best teams — the BCS picks two teams by polls and a computer program and declares the winner the national champion. Playoffs run by the NCAA would not lower revenue and would not distract students from finals (the games are held after). The huge popularity of March Madness should be proof enough that letting players determine the best team is the best answer.

  2. Make college sports finances transparent

    After studying the subject for a year and a half, the 2010 Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics called for the much-needed reform of making the details of colleges’ sports deals freely available to the public. This means TV contracts, licensing, merchandising, coaches’ salaries, stadium costs … everything. As co-chairman Brit Kirwan put it, “There is every reason to believe that the current direction of big-time college sports is leading us to even greater imbalances in the fiscal priority for athletics over academics.” Public universities especially have no excuse for not making this info available, but bringing their finances to light would help all schools remember that sports are games and should take a backseat to education.

  3. Give student athletes a stipend

    In October 2011, the NCAA board passed a new rule that would allow student athletes to receive up to $2,000 a year for living expenses other than school costs. By mid-December, the plan was nixed, stopped cold by the 125 schools that had objected to it, saying it was no different than pay-for-play. But by then, some athletes had already signed letters of intent where the $2,000 was part of the deal, so they will get to keep that money. In other words, there could be players on the field in 2012 who received the tiniest fraction of what their schools make off them to play a sport. Assuming the world doesn’t stop spinning, this is a reform that needs to be instituted to help athletes cover the cost of living while in college.

  4. Give student athletes a voice in their governance

    In a highly critical assessment of the NCAA’s treatment of student athletes in America today, historian Taylor Branch enumerated what he saw as “the most basic reform” needed now: treating the students as adults with rights and not borderline slaves. This would help the NCAA maintain a check and balance on its power over student athletes, and provide a way for students to give informed consent regarding their management. The only possible reason the NCAA could want to discourage this is that they don’t want to hear what the athletes have to say, and such a feeling is woefully out of sync with a country founded on the very idea that the governed should have a say in their governance.

  5. Tie disbursements to academic performance

    Another recommendation to come out of the Knight Commission report was reforming the way the NCAA makes payments to member schools. As it is, the payouts are wildly disproportionate, with major programs getting major dollars and small schools receiving just enough to keep them from rocking the boat. As a way to keep the focus on education, the commission suggested half the March Madness proceeds and at least 20% of the take from BCS games be set aside into a fund (the “Academic-Athletics Balance Fund” in their vision) to then be paid out to schools that have at least half their student athletes on par to graduate.

  1. Clamp down on informal workouts

    Of all the issues on this list, this is the only one that’s literally a matter of life and death. Nineteen football players have lost their lives in off-season football conditioning sessions since 2000. Most recently, the issue made headlines when 41 University of Iowa players collapsed from exhaustion, and 13 had to be rushed to the emergency room where they were diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolysis, which involves the breakdown of skeletal muscles. In these workouts, players are frequently driven too hard, often in dangerous weather conditions. If the schools won’t protect these players, the job falls to the NCAA, and it should act.

  2. Overhaul the enforcement process

    One of the most consistent criticisms of the NCAA is that for its myriad regulations, its policing of college sports is hit-or-miss at best and completely random and haphazard at worst. Suggestions for reform include auditing the NCAA to make sure there is consistency in the way punishments are applied, and holding head coaches more accountable for what assistant coaches are doing. However, one reform being considered is one that should be avoided: putting coaches on the enforcement committee. That’s the equivalent of the inmates running the asylum.

  3. Let student athletes market themselves

    The NCAA continues to cling to the preposterous stance that amateurism works in college sports. Realists recognize that the rules violation of players accepting money from boosters is not a recent phenomenon; it’s been part of the landscape for decades. A possible legal solution is to adopt the “Olympic model.” In this system, players would not be directly paid by their schools, but the ones who are able would be allowed to accept marketing deals from third parties. This way schools are not paying athletes to play, but good players are seeing some money for their work. It’s time for the NCAA to admit the amateurism ship has sailed.

  4. Allowing multi-year athletic scholarships

    This is one needed reform that actually is going to happen, although it was nearly scrapped when 62.1% of NCAA schools voted to override it. A new rule allows schools the option of offering student players multi-year scholarships, instead of only one-year renewable contracts. The need for this reform was highlighted when a Rice University football player sued the NCAA after the scholarship that brought him to the school was revoked in his junior year after the coach who offered it to him left for another university. He believed that had multi-year scholarships been available, he would have gone somewhere else where he could have had a full scholarship. Such a change will protect students and encourage schools to make the same level of commitment to players that the players are making to the schools.

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