The NCAA is heading to its doom, and as history shows, nobody should be surprised.
For our purposes, the NCAA is the Roman Empire circa 450 AD. The Western Roman Empire would fall less than three decades later. The reasons it fell were legion, including weak leadership and systemic corruption. But the parallels with the NCAA suggest that college sport’s governing body is heading for a historic fall.
Consider three separate events, in three separate parts of the NCAA, that show exceptional commonality: the tragic injury to Kentucky basketball’s Nerlens Noel, the Miami “investigation,” and the changes that the NCAA recently made in recruiting.
The most obvious corruption is within the Miami investigation. It will have far-reaching effects on how the NCAA approaches enforcement in the future. In short, the NCAA hired an attorney and used that attorney to ask questions during a deposition. The issue at hand is that the NCAA basically used a set of circumstances to compel witness testimony under oath. It is, at best, a tremendous stretch by the NCAA.
The reaction was, not surprisingly, a firestorm of deserved criticism. The entire enforcement arm is now being investigated for what else they’ve been doing. In other words, the investigators are investigating whether the other investigators investigated properly or improperly. While everyone investigates each other, Miami is left whistling in the wind. They have received no notice of allegations, and will not for the foreseeable future, and have self-imposed numerous penalties to try and alleviate sanctions that may not be forthcoming due to systemic problems in the investigation.
In basketball, Nerlens Noel suffered an ACL tear in a game against the Florida Gators this past week. The young man has to have been out of high school for one year, and be 19, before he is eligible for the NBA draft. That rule, adopted from the 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), gave rise to the concept of one-and-done players.
A player will come to college for a semester and a half, and then leave to make millions on an NBA roster. Was there some form of collusion over this negotiation? That claim will not be found here, but it is absolutely certain that the NCAA has benefited from the arrangement in the form of monster television revenue. Such an arrangement strikes at the very heart of the term “student-athlete” to the point it almost invalidates it.
If the CBA hadn’t been ratified as is, Noel would have been in the NBA and his contract would have been guaranteed. Now? He has almost certainly lost some draft standing (and its associated dollars), and recovery isn’t easy.
Now for the coup de grace, the recruiting rule changes. If the one-and-done manipulations by the NCAA put “student-athlete” on its deathbed, the rule changes walked up to that bed, poured gasoline on it, and set the whole concept ablaze. The rule changes have basically made it open season for recruiting. There are far fewer restrictions on numbers of assistants allowed to recruit, and contact periods have been broadened universally.
Let’s look at Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide staff – easily the best football recruiting staff in America – and project what will happen during the 2014 recruiting cycle, when these new rules are instituted.
Since recruits can be contacted a year earlier, recruiting staffs will have to grow with them. Nick Saban has already hired Kevin Steele, and is about to hire Kerry Stephenson from Mobile onto the staff as well. Both men have been earmarked to fill off-field roles, and will be involved in recruiting.
Media relations people will be allowed to work with recruits, thus giving more people more access. The rules are going to give rise to NFL-type personnel departments. How will some schools compete with a titan like Alabama? They can’t unless they’re willing to spend. The arms race is on. At that point, what is the point of a “student-athlete” again?
The NCAA will fall under its own power, and its inability to have anything close to a united vision. Folks calling for the organization to be thrown down and smote upon a mountainside need only grab their lawn chairs and popcorn for the fireworks.