Wiedmer: NCAA needing to adjust

Wiedmer: NCAA needing to adjust

June 19th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The University of Tennessee wrapped up its defense before the NCAA Committee on Infractions a week ago Saturday.

In the nine days since, NCAA president Mark Emmert has told USA Today, "We are at a crossroads. The fact is there is a lot of frustration, not just out in the world but inside intercollegiate athletics. I have a lot of frustration."

In an attempt to alleviate some of that frustration, Emmert announced he will host a retreat this summer at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to discuss with 50 or so college presidents and chancellors many of big-time athletics' problems.

Academics, finances and the fairest way to treat athletes in football and men's basketball - the chief moneymakers of college sports - are all expected to be discussed in depth, as well as other issues.

And with significant infractions cases still on the table at Tennessee, Ohio State, North Carolina and Boise State - plus the much-publicized controversies that dampened the euphoria of a football national title at Auburn and a basketball championship for Connecticut, the time to heighten the public's respect for major college sports is well overdue.

But a word of caution might also be in order for all the have-nots. After all, what if the BCS leagues and a few noteworthy independents - Brigham Young and Notre Dame, for instance - break off to form a new organization?

What then?

You think CBS, ABC and ESPN are going to cough up the billions they do now to televise the Ivy League, Ohio Valley and Southern conferences? You think the NCAA men's basketball tournament would still be the darling of office pools everywhere if North Carolina, Kentucky, UConn, Kansas and UCLA were battling it out in another event?

Butler playing Duke for the national championship is one thing. Butler playing the Dukes of James Madison would be another.

And before you say this can't happen, consider that the Bowl Championship Series postseason setup isn't even conducted by the NCAA. Those big boys may still adhere to NCAA rules, but that's about the extent of the NCAA's involvement.

Or go back to the 1940s, when the NIT was a far bigger championship than the NCAA. Then the betting scandals hit and the NIT never really recovered.

Just imagine a world in which the SEC and the other BCS leagues were to form the Super Intercollegiate Corporation (SIC), ink mega deals with CBS and ESPN and tell everybody else to take a flying leap.

Without television money, everybody else is in trouble. The competition undoubtedly would become purer in both fact and spirit. Schools that remained in the NCAA could still claim to win an NCAA men's basketball championship that counted UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Indiana among its past grand champions.

But the reality is that the public appeal of those championships would take on the atmosphere of the Football Championship Subdivision formerly known as Division I-AA.

Yeah, this is great, the winners' fans might say. But could they stay on the field with the SIC champ?

Do I think this will happen? Probably not. I think the NCAA is going to gently move away from hammering schools and inch toward hammering the individuals responsible for violating those rules.

Thus should former UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel be more afraid than their former employers of the Committee on Infractions' rulings.

But for the NCAA to win back the trust of the public, it needs to become far more transparent in everything. For starters, at least try to make it appear that everyone is treated fairly, if not equally. Make penalties as uniform as possible for similar violations.

Also, start banning schools from recruiting an athlete where they've committed two secondary violations or one major violation. If you don't allow an athlete to sign with a school that's cheating to get him, most recruiting violations would quickly disappear.

Furthermore, in cases where the athlete or his family clearly participated in the violations, the athlete is banned for at least a year by the NCAA, NBA and NFL. Obviously, this would require more cooperation between the colleges and the pros than we've previously seen, but those guys could use a little image enhancement as well.

Finally, though a college scholarship is worth much more financially - both now and later - than most athletes realize, the truly elite athlete (Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, etc.) delivers his school much more green during his college career than it gives him.

It's time to set aside bank accounts that hold royalty checks from the sale of their likeness and jersey numbers while they're in school.

The money can't be divulged or touched until their college eligibility is done, thus minimizing issues of jealousy, greed or both. This keeps both the player and his family from whining that the coach isn't playing Johnny Jumpshot enough to increase his jersey sales.

But it also awards those athletes who become more important to the university than the university is to them.

It's easy to believe it can't be fixed. But a quick listen to UT football coach Derek Dooley after he attended last week's NCAA hearing also offers hope for the future.

Said Dooley of the importance of following the rules during a Friday speaking engagement in Cleveland: "When you see how one bad choice can affect so many, it puts things in perspective. ... You never want to do anything that could ultimately cost you your job."

If Dooley becomes the rule rather than the exception, the NCAA's crossroads could direct it to better days.