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Miscellany

On Tony Barnhart's Five Recommendations to Improve College Football

Tony Barnhart argues, correctly, that “college football has reached a tipping point on its integrity scale.” He recommends five steps the sport should take to stem the corruption. Some are interesting, some are idealist and some would be controversial. A discussion after the jump.

1. Find a way for the top 60 to 70 schools that play major college football to work independently from the NCAA. The sport has become too big to be managed within in the limitations of the NCAA framework. If a way cannot be found to accommodate these schools then they should leave the NCAA and form their own organization and make their own rules.

This is like the European Super League in soccer: mythical, radical, yet eminently plausible. Delany and Co. pack their bags, break from FBS as either the present six conferences or four 16-team super conferences. The power conferences control don’t have to share the postseason revenue and miraculously a more profitable playoff appears. Most fans don’t care. Media members write toothless screeds about fairness, while feeding from the press box and being paid by the networks who profit handsomely.

Why would this happen? It would need an impetus, which would be difficult, because the current system serves those in charge well. The sport stays “amateur” and “non-profit.” Schools don’t need to pay players and don’t need to pay taxes. The NCAA already ceded control of the postseason revenue. Coaches, administrators and conference officials earn high-six and low-seven figure salaries. The system isn’t as profitable as it could be, but it’s profitable for those running it and balanced in the big conferences’ favor.

This would allow college football to overhaul NCAA rules that are irresponsive and ultimately unfair, though it would screw the 50-60 programs that don’t play “big time college football.”

2. Create a commissioner of college football. My CBS colleague Tim Brando has been saying this for years, and he’s right. Somebody needs to be in charge for the good of the entire sport. On cases like Cam Newton and the Ohio State Five, the commissioner has the last word. He or she will have zero tolerance for cheating (and there is a difference between cheating and breaking the rules). Only a strong commissioner, backed up by the presidents, can bring the risk-reward for cheating back into balance.

NCAA decision-making is indecisive, inconsistent and opaque. A David Stern-like figure would bring a firm hand, clarity and fairness and help reform the sport. The trouble is that type of force would never be appointed. College presidents know nothing of football. They defer to their ADs and conference commissioners. The commissioners would either appoint one of themselves (a Selig) or a deferential figure for their interests (a Goodell). Someone might be better than no one, but its’ hard to see this working as well as intended.

3. Freshmen will be declared ineligible. There is a whole host of pathologies that are created by a recruiting process that tells 18-year-old children they are stars and should be treated (and paid) like one. Until 1972, freshmen were not eligible to play. There was a reason for that. Most are not mature enough, emotionally or academically, to commit to big-time college football. It’s simple. If you make your grades as a freshman and prove that you can handle college life, then you get to play as a sophomore. Would this be tough to do with only 85 scholarships? Yep. But it’s for the greater good. This will never happen, but it would address a lot of ills.

Barnhart argues the recruiting process creates “a whole host of pathologies” and that a year sitting on the bench would teach humility. He concedes “this will never happen.” It won’t happen, because it’s paternalistic and unnecessary. Football has no need of a gap year to sort out the bad seeds. It isn’t a star-driven sport. It’s the ultimate meritocracy. Most freshman don’t play. You have to earn your place on the field. You have to stay out of trouble and stay academically eligible for at least three years.

There are dickheads in every walk of life, just these particular ones have their misdeeds sensationalized and made public. In college football, the dickheads learn their lesson and reform, become at least functional dickheads or get weeded out. There’s no reason why the majority of kids who get it and are talented enough to play as freshmen should not.

Age and maturity are seldom “problems” except in predominately black sports. Sidney Crosby debuted in the NHL when he was 18, 18-year-old Michael Phelps was swimming in the World Championships and training for the Olympics and Juan Agudelo, 18, just scored a goal for the U.S. National Team against Argentina. These experiences were more stressful than participating in “big time college football.” We can entrust an 18-year-old to join the army and fight in Afghanistan, yet “the college life” and practicing for a ball game is too much for them to handle?

4. Football scholarships become five-year commitments by the school. In exchange for giving up freshman eligibility, the student athlete will get a five-year guaranteed scholarship if he stays in good academic standing and doesn’t get in trouble with the law. The one-year scholarship is a bad deal for the students. Red-shirting is eliminated. And one other thing: No oversigning. No gray-shirting. You sign a kid and he gets a scholarship. Period.

No complaints here. If you’re claiming these kids are students and not indentured servants, their student status shouldn’t depend year to year on their expected utility on the football field.

5. Change the scholarship to include the full cost of attendance. The top academic scholarships include a stipend for incidental living expenses based on the location of the campus. Athletic scholarships should do the same. This stipend of several thousand dollars (plus a Pell Grant that can be as much as $5,500) takes the argument off the table that athletes from poor backgrounds do not have spending money. The NCAA has a Student Opportunity fund of more than $50 million available to help students in need (clothes, trips home in an emergency, etc.).

I agree with this as well. It’s fair. These kids can’t get jobs. They work a full-time job in addition to taking a full course-load. Parents have to cover the incidental costs. Many of these kids come from families where that is a hardship. This would be easy, not that expensive and could be done for every sport without altering Title IX.

Stipends wouldn’t stop everything. Kids would still go to a school that offered them cash up front. But, it would alleviate the financial pressure for kids to take loans from agents, to sell colored pants and other forms of memorabilia and to barter for things they could otherwise afford. Whether the media should chastise players for indiscretions like that when administrators and coaches are suckling millions out of the system is another matter…

[Photo via Getty]

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