NCAA Reform- Conference Expansion, Division 4 and Free Agency?
It feels good to win. And why wouldn’t it? It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating. It’s motivating. But sometimes winning just doesn’t seem possible. Kansas football. Clemson basketball in the Dean Dome. The Big Ten in population growth. Hopeless causes. Or are they? Maybe they’re just a few moves away. I think the NCAA is too.
Right now, the college sports world is in a period of significant change. Conference expansion is making leagues that we grew up with unrecognizable (see West Virginia paired with teams like Iowa State). Current and former players are suing the NCAA. And for once, the NCAA is seems to be listening. They’re promising a full-scale change in their governance and policies in the next year. This could mean full cost-of-attendance scholarships. Division 4 football. A semi-pro system where players can get endorsements. The possibilities are endless. But will they follow through? Imagine if they did.
What if, to preserve the integrity of the “student-athlete,” the NCAA went ahead and implemented some of these changes? After all, if players were compensated through endorsements, or full cost-of-living scholarships, they wouldn’t feel like they had to break the rules as often, would they? With a clean rule book and extended privileges, the NCAA would have more time for honestly more important issues like athlete medical bills, guaranteed four-year scholarships (with an arrest provision) and concussions. Imagine an NCAA that cares more about the student athlete than the bottom line? Okay, it’s hard to believe.
But it’s possible. I’m not the first person to stand up for college athletes on a lot of issues. I think it’s ridiculous that they feel like they have to accept money, or even that it’s not bad that they do. The NCAA is broken, that’s a fact, But they’re not the bad guy. They’re just going about it in the wrong way. First of all, student athletes are given a tremendous opportunity to learn and study at a school that they might not have had a chance to attend otherwise. It’s their fault for not taking advantage of it. And athletes are guaranteed plenty to eat and somewhere to live free-of-charge. It’s called the dining hall and the dorm. It’s not the school’s responsibility to pay for the player’s beer money and fancy apartment. I’m not on board with that, so Arian Foster can just get over it.
But change is needed. The NCAA’s rulebook is a million pages long, punishments are uneven, and I will admit that the players are taken advantage of to some extent. So what’s the solution? I’ve laid out my wish list below. Let us know what you want to see.
1) A Cleaner, shorter, rulebook (to be enforced consistently)– Enough said. We’re still waiting on the Miami ruling….
2) Division 4 Football (or whatever you want to call it)/End of Conference Expansion- As much as we like to talk about it, conference expansion is a horrible thing. There’s no reason that North Carolina plays a school in its own conference and state (Wake Forest), and a school in a bordering state (Clemson), only once every five years at best. The NCAA needs to draw the line. Create a new division, cap it based off of revenue, school size, budget, or whatever, and realign. Yes, realign. Create even, geographically sensible conferences. This will help everyone, no matter the level.
3) More emphasis on the “student” and four year scholarships- Barring any legal issues, schools and coaches should be required to be just as committed to the student as the player is to the school. If they leave early, allow them to come back and finish their education. Don’t cut them from the team just because someone “better” comes along. Be honest. Be loyal. Take an interest in the player’s future, not just their earning potential.
4) Research and medical coverage- No one forces these players to play sports. It’s a choice, whether they’ll admit it or not. But it’s a choice that comes with a consequence- many of these sports are dangerous. The NCAA should be doing everything in their power to help the players. Not just because they’re earning money off of them, but because they’re PEOPLE. There needs to be a firm commitment to protecting the player’s future- in the classroom AND on the field. Athletes shouldn’t be stuck with large medical bills after their eligibility runs out. The NCAA should be the leader in concussion research. After all, they’re made up of universities that do a lot of research on their own.
5) Better transfer rules- Okay, it’s NOT free agency. But as Coach K has gone on about many times, the transfer rules are crazy. Some players can play, some can’t. And there’s really no rhyme, or reason to it. Allow players to leave in extenuating circumstances to any school they want- no further questions asked. Is it really that bad for a player to leave Georgia Tech to go to Boston College to be near their sick family member? Probably not. Obviously, this kind of thing is a sticky situation. It seems like basketball transfers have gone up in recent years. But let the player decide. If they break their commitment to their school the school is off the hook. Let the player be too.
I could probably go on, but we want to hear what YOU think. What reform is at the top of your list?