It's been a roller-coaster week for the NCAA, a much-besieged group that is fighting for survival and trying to find a path to relevancy in the future landscape of college athletics.
It seems somewhat awkward that the governing body of college sports is now wondering what its role will be in college sports, but the last week shows that the guard dog that was the NCAA carries little bite and the muted tones of its bark seem to be falling more and more frequently on deaf ears.
The lawsuit brought by former college basketball and football players against video-game giant EA Sports was settled this week for a reported $40 million. While that seems like a lot of coin, know that EA Sports reported revenues in the $3.8 billion range -- yes, billion with a "B" -- for the last fiscal year.
No, EA Sports settled to be done with this -- it admits no guilt in the agreement, mind you -- and even released this doozy on the way out: "We follow rules that are set by the NCAA, but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes."
You bet those rules are being challenged, and they are coming from all angles. Ultimately whether the NCAA survives the transformation could depend on how it handles the current.
Also this week, the NCAA offered back scholarships to Penn State, dialing down the harsh sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky debacle. But they listened to USC's pleas for mercy and reduced sanctions and said no thanks.
Whether you agree with that -- it seems reasonable enough -- or don't agree with that (Why pick Penn State as the outlier and the beneficiary of a second chance? Is Bruce Pearl or THE Ohio State or Miami, which still has not been sanctioned officially, not worthy for sins far less egregious?), it signifies the beginning of the end of the NCAA. Or why say no to USC?
Think back even five years, and would the overbearing, Big Brother tactics of the NCAA ever be reviewed and softened? Heck, no. The NCAA ruled with a slow but powerful right hand that was feared.
But in those last five years, the NCAA's grip has weakened exponentially. There is no longer the aura or the intimidation of the NCAA coming to town; now it's viewed less like an investigation and more like an infestation of gnats.
And the power programs that already are looking for a reason to take their TV deals and go elsewhere are itching for a reason or a standard or an opportunity to say, "Hey, the next rogue booster like Nevin Shapiro could be at our school," and simply break away.
There may be nothing the NCAA can do about it in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly appears the once-all-powerful governing body is relegated to the role of the heartbroken teenager who vows to change and promises to quit hanging out with his buddies and will vow to watch "Grey's Anatomy" and even will try to like it as long Susie Hotpants will still go out with him.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has said the organization expects major changes later this year. Duh. There is the paying-athletes debate that has reached the cover-of-Time level of importance, the Penn State reduction and the Miami foot-dragging (which was predicated by the Miami toe-stubbing by the NCAA, which is a whole other deal entirely). There is general angst and irritation that reaches almost to hatred for most of college sports fans everywhere toward the NCAA.
The NCAA wants it to be 1985 again. Heck, most college fans would embrace a 1985 nostalgia about college sports, too. But Alex P. Keaton and Cliff Huxtable are not walking through that door.
Nope, that door has forever been changed. The locks were picked by Cam Newton and Auburn, which vowed to lawyer up and fight to the very end. The frame was destroyed from inside when the NCAA could not close the deal on Miami, despite being handed a filing cabinet of intel from YahooSports ace Dan Wetzel. The wood was eroded by the haphazard and inconsistent rulings delivered on a variety of cases across the nation.
And in truth, even if the NCAA had handled its business like Microsoft, its days were numbered if for no other reason than the power players in college sports -- the big-boy football schools -- do not like to share. They do not want to let the smaller schools fight for the scraps from their table, and they certainly do not see any reason to share with an NCAA that is serving little purpose and has the popularity rating of Congress. They view it as buying a plate for the mosquitoes at the picnic.
So even if it had been aces instead of deuces, the NCAA was on borrowed time. That's how it goes sometimes, and this likely started when SEC commissioner Roy Kramer negotiated the TV deal for the SEC championship game two decades ago and the league realized that splitting that revenue 13 ways was way better than dividing it across all of college sports, like the money from the NCAA basketball tournament is dispersed.
Quite simply, the power conferences are openly saying, "Hey, NCAA, it's not us; it's you."
Maybe this was coming no matter what happened. The NCAA, however, just keeps making it an easier decision.