The NCAA has been around for a long time; so long, in fact, that some might call it the horror movie franchise reboot of governing bodies. However, just because the NCAA has existed for decades doesn’t mean it has sufficiently upheld the virtues of its beloved ideal of amateurism.
Really, maintaining power — which is all the NCAA can really tout at the moment — doesn’t mean that much when every single decision seems to be going against the organization.
With the highly entertaining Ed O’Bannon lawsuit-led over, and ruling going against the NCAA, coupled with the Power Five football conferences making a play for autonomy, the NCAA is in a pretty tough predicament.
How the NCAA responds will shape the landscape of collegiate athletics for the foreseeable future.
The organization’s response may also define its legacy–which, at the moment, is that of an initially good idea that failed to adapt as it grew into a billion-dollar business.
The Power Five maneuver may end up being the one that ends up being more important. Yes, the landmark decision in the O’Bannon case will certainly have ramifications after (if) the appeal’s process is completed, but college sports is mostly run on football money — most of which is generated by major programs in the Power 5 conferences.
The new-found autonomy granted to the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12 and ACC by last week’s vote is essentially a trial run for NCAA secession. Unlike Group of Five or FCS conferences that are comprised mostly of smaller universities with less money, the Power Five are not all that reliant on the NCAA to achieve their athletic departments’ ultimate goal: generating cash money.
It almost makes no sense that they have stuck by the side of the governing body of college sports as long as they have. Between the NCAA’s inability to properly — or consistently — enforce its brand of justice, coupled with the Power 5 having to share some of its earning with lesser programs, it’s no surprise this happened. The only shocking part is it took until 2014 to happen.
Still, don’t misconstrue the Power Five’s action as altruistic maneuvers by each league’s commissioners and university presidents. They are just taking a more direct route to avoid the pitfall that is now being aligned with the NCAA. It’s about efficiency — take out the middle man who whets his beak from the revenue the conferences generate (see: SEC Network).
Now, I am in favor of paying players but recognize the indirect impact splitting money with revenue-sport athletes will have elsewhere. Non-revenue sports are going to hurt, while there big-time football and men’s basketball programs could take on a look more like the pros with prevalent free agency. And then the NCAA basketball will become a completely different thing altogether without the Cinderellas.
And yet, the bad ramifications should not be avoided at all costs.
If you are like me, and think the players should be paid, we are also acknowledging that college sports is a business. Just like any capitalist venture there will be cuts that need to be made. Typically, cuts take away from less profitable products.
Think of it this way: If Coors decided that Keystone Light wasn’t generating enough money for their company, especially at the expense of their best-selling brand (Coors Light), Keystone Light might be discontinued from being made even if it is a fine product with a niche market. Unfortunately for some smaller, non-revenue sports around collegiate athletics, this could very well wind up being them.
However, again, that’s business. It is pretty simple actually. You could argue the foundation of that argument — and you could even be right — but big business isn’t about giving everyone equal rights. Burger King doesn’t give Ronald McDonald the heads up when they are putting a new item on the dollar menu, nor will they lower the price of their triple bacon and unicorn cheeseburger so another fast food chain can keep up.
Like any argument that predates this week’s landmarks decisions, the future is unknown. But because some bad might come of it doesn’t mean it’s all gloom and doom going forward — because, honestly, this might end up being a blessing in disguise for everyone. No, really — hear me out.
The NCAA was and is in need of major reform. Even a considerable number people who back the idea of amateurism know this. The governing body has long been using rotary phones while the rest of the free-world has moved on to talking to people via ESP (that’s what a bluetooth is, right?).
Sometimes the only way for an organization that is as strong — and historically unopposed — as the NCAA to change is through force. A revolution; a coup d’etat, if you will.
If the NCAA plays its cards right, it can survive. Whether that’s jumping onto the Power Five’s bandwagon or aligning with the smaller schools and non-revenue sports while clinging to amateurism, this isn’t necessarily the death knell of the governing body. The NCAA can even thrive in the years to come.
Example: let the Power 5 conferences flourish with autonomy but continue to have a business relationship with them. Those are the only football schools that will make the insane amounts of money that give the individual athletic departments the leverage the NCAA fears. That leverage is more power for the student-athletes and the threat of using that power to walk.
However, contract the 60 plus schools in their new subdivision to play teams from the NCAA at least twice a year. You know, that way the NCAA can continue to do what it does best; make money from the revenue-generators football programs.
It would be far more complex than that, but that’s just one idea. The NCAA could go as far as abandoning their ideals all-together and remain as the governing body of all of college sports. Say what you want about the way they deal with wielding their misguided justice and treating athletes as indentured servants, but their business model has helped generate billions in the world of college sports and has helped keep the Checkers’ Teams of the world from going belly-up.
I can’t say with certainty what’s going to happen next. Some have speculated that this is the end of the NCAA, non-revenue sports or that the zombie apocalypse is right around the corner. I just don’t know — and refuse to say without actual proof — if any of that is true.
What I do know, however, is that things are changing in the world of college sports; a few decades too late maybe, but they are going to happen pretty quickly. Whether the NCAA used any of the billions it has made off the backs of student-athletes to buy a seatbelt is yet to be seen, but they better buckle-up and get ready for the ride of their lives. Because no one knows if all of these things are going to result in a smooth ride or a 23-car pileup.