The NCAA is a doomed organization. Unpopular and unnecessary, it only exists because its members schools haven’t gotten mad enough to replace it.
That time is coming soon, and the NCAA has accelerated its own demise with a series of arrogant, aloof and mean-spirited rulings that appear to have more to do with a powerful organization flexing its muscles while it still has them than any sense of fairness, justice or fear of retaliation.
So for whatever time is left, college athletics departments should stop cooperating with the NCAA entirely, if they don’t sue it into oblivion first.
Used to be that if the NCAA’s crack team of investigators was on your case, you could help yourself out by helping the NCAA along. Self-reporting violations, turning over evidence, self-penalizing. It worked something like a plea deal — make things easier on us and we’ll make them easier on you.
That’s all changed.
Look at Ole Miss. The Rebels in 2017 self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for recruiting violations that happened under former coach Hugh Freeze. Relying primarily on the (non-legally binding) testimony of Leo Lewis, a guy who plays for Ole Miss’ in-state rival, Mississippi State, the NCAA decided that wasn’t enough. It added another year to the bowl ban, a probationary period that lasts until 2020, and several show-cause penalties for members of the coaching staff.
This, after a ludicrous five-year investigation that served as its own kind of purgatory, casting doubt into the minds of every kid Ole Miss tried to recruit during that time — and by extension helping the in-state rival who helpfully supplied the NCAA’s key witness. (The NCAA is, at present, a defendant in a defamation lawsuit over this matter).
There was no apparent benefit to Ole Miss for its cooperation.
Missouri last week got busted for the actions of a single tutor who did coursework for 12 athletes in 2015 and 2016. The school cooperated with the investigation and self-imposed some sanctions. The NCAA acknowledged it found no evidence the rest of the athletic department was involved, but shuffled the deck, pulled out a card, and handed Missouri a one-year bowl ban anyway.
At Kansas, sophomore basketball player Silvio De Sousa has spent most of his two seasons in street clothes, waiting for the NCAA to say whether he can play or not. His freshman year, it had to do with his transcripts. This year, it all concerned a $2,500 payment to De Sousa’s guardian.
While this was happening, Kansas chose not to play him. In effect, Kansas had already suspended De Sousa 21 games this season when the NCAA handed down its ruling: With no evidence De Sousa knew about the payment, a two-year suspension for De Sousa, and they’re going to think about vacating wins from last year too.
So now Arizona is in this situation, and all recent NCAA activity suggests the Wildcats shouldn’t cooperate, but should go on offense, as Kansas is suggesting it will do.
“I believe that it ain’t over,” Self said.
The NCAA’s processes are non-transparent, its investigations are punitive in length alone, its rulings are arbitrary, and because of all this the NCAA is causing real-world financial damages to young athletes and others with massive earning potential. I’m no attorney, but that sounds like a nice stew for a class-action lawsuit, and colleges would be wise to position themselves on the right side of that.
The NCAA’s fundamental concept of amateurism is already on shaky ground after the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, when U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that by forbidding payments to athletes, the NCAA was in violation of antitrust laws.
Throw on top of that a guy like De Sousa. Not only does the NCAA forbid him from being paid for his work in college, it has intentionally (and some might argue maliciously) injured his potential to do so in the future. We’re talking about a guy who is a borderline NBA draft pick expected to play a major role for the preseason No. 1 team in the country. There are millions of dollars in the balance here, and we’re just talking about one guy who was the first big man off the bench on one basketball team.
What about Kelly Bryant, the quarterback who transferred from Clemson to Missouri in December? He doesn’t have as clear a case his earnings potential has been damaged. But, again, this is a legitimate pro prospect looking for an opportunity to play (for free) whose senior year is going to be lost in NCAA purgatory. He’ll never know how things might have been different if the Tigers knew they’d have something to play for at the end of the year.
Up to this point in history, most schools have been willing to play ball with the NCAA because you have to have some rules, which means somebody has to enforce them. And until the last 10 years or so the general populace was more or less into the idea that amateurism was a noble thing and paying players under the table was immoral.
Even when their teams would get busted, most fans would stick to the premise that the NCAA sucks, but would always be there. Like Congress, or Maroon 5.
And I think the NCAA is making a mistake in not realizing how much it has been allowed to get away with just because nobody ever had the will and the energy to set about tearing the whole thing down.
That day isn’t here yet, but there’s a lot of chatter in the pubs.