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  • Episode 7: FINALLY, another NCAA working group!

Episode 7: FINALLY, another NCAA working group!

The current model of amateurism, especially with college basketball, has taken whack after whack over the last several months, most notably after a public and embarrassing corruption scandal involving multiple high profile basketball programs. At least a dozen programs were at least tangentially involved. One of the rare successful coaches who almost everybody in the industry thinks isn’t cheating, Michigan’s John Beilein, just bolted to take the Cleveland Cavaliers job.

This led to some pretty embarrassing BEILEIN IS A MARTYR FOR THE SINS OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL takes. I know Michigan produces a lot of media people, but did everybody forget who won the national title this year? Or that “not paying recruits” is insufficient grounds for canonization? Geez.

Everybody who even kind of follows college athletics knows this current model isn’t working. It doesn’t work for the elite recruits in basketball OR football, it isn’t working for the coaches who have to recruit in this system, and it isn’t working for administrators. If everybody is cheating, you gotta change something.

And now, the NCAA has read your tweets, seen the newspaper reports, and is ready for bold, decisive action to help clea—lmao I’m just kidding you guys, could you imagine?

One wonders why such a working group would be needed. After all, it’s right there in the lede of their much ballyhooed Basketball Commission, chaired by Condi Rice for some reason. You know, the big, ambitious working group from last year? The one that was supposed to fix college basketball? From Rice’s recommendations:

“..And as soon as the legal framework is clear, developing a new policy on name, image and likeness.”

The legal framework is clear at this point. Some students are already allowed to profit off their likeness, allowing everybody to do so would let athletes “get paid” without running afoul of Title IX or costing any university one cent. Every blogger on the internet has already studied this plan for you. Why weren’t they studying it too?

The real impetus for change here wasn’t the big fancy commission, or the constant ranting by sportswriters. Rather, the dysfunction of the current system is so bad that now politicians are getting involved.

What’s especially notable about recent calls for student athletes to get some sort of compensation is that they’re bipartisan. Republican state legislators in Washington and Colorado have advocated reform, and perhaps the most visible political attempt has come from U.S. Congressman Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican. US Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, has also criticized the status quo.

The NCAA can wait out angry bloggers and fans, but if they can’t fix their problems, politicians will get involved. The correct time to act was years ago. The next more correct time to act is right now.

But I’m not optimistic about this working group

One big clue is the membership of the group, which you can find here.

Sure, some of the names on here are folks you’d expect. Val Ackerman, the commissioner of the Big East and one of the most important voices in college basketball, chairs the committee with Ohio State’s Gene Smith, long a respected voice in NCAA circles, and the head of one of the biggest athletic departments in the country. Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, and administrators from schools like Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Colorado are all involved. That makes sense.

But this group also includes administrators from places like Henderson State, Springfield College, Lubbock Christian, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. None of those schools are Division I institutions. The group also includes a student athlete to be determined at a DIII school, and an administrator at Northern Arizona, an FCS program and a low-major DI school.

No disrespect to any athlete at those institutions, but the likeness rights for anybody at Lubbock Christian couldn’t buy a value meal at Burger King.

This is a problem that impacts DI athletics. The entire reason we HAVE divisions I, II and III is because the biggest schools realized that places like Henderson State are so far removed from the athletics issues at say, Arkansas, that having them craft shared policy was pointless. If you think your sport is in such disarray that you cry for Condi Rice to come fix it…why are you bringing in the DIII folks?

It’s also pretty clear that a limited scope of potential solutions will be considered here. Right here in the press release, it says:

the group will not consider any concepts that could be construed as payment for participation in college sports

And Ackerman specifically says, (emphasis mine) the committee:

…will examine the NCAA’s position on name, image and likeness benefits andpotentially propose rule modifications tethered to education

If the only payouts you’re considering allowing are specifically tied to education, that might be enough to limit your exposure in additional litigation. But I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to keep the congressmen at bay. It certainly won’t be enough to stop the bagmen. But we’ll see what they come up with.

There is one silver lining here. Maybe.

I’ll just admit this here. I’m a big amateurism skeptic, and the longer I do this, the more skeptical I become. Big time college athletes have had economic value since at least the early 1900s, when tobacco companies would seek out football players as salesmen. John Watterson’s College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy recounts an early Ivy League recruiting battle near the turn of the century:

Though from a poor family, Hogan lived in the finest dormitory. He also took a free trip to Cuba with the Yale trainer, Mike Murphy, and was given the lucrative franchise of representing the American Tobacco Company on campus. According to an official of the company, the player talked up the cigarettes to his friends. “They appreciate and like him; they realize that he is a poor fellow, working his way through college and they want to help him,” a company official declared. “So they buy our cigarettes, knowing that Hogan gets a commission on every box sold in New Haven.” Asked if other Yale students had this opportunity, the official responded that they do not — Hogan’s job was simply an experiment.

Pretending this isn’t true won’t prevent outsiders from trying to make a buck. The ruse ultimately just hurts the athlete. I realize that asking the NCAA to come to this conclusion is probably unreasonable, but tiny, incremental tweaks aren’t going to clean up the game in any meaningful way. They’ve been trying tweaks for 150 years.

Nothing is going to come out from this working group soon (they won’t provide an update until August), but one narrow possibly is that the group could pave the way for the return of the NCAA video game series.

We haven’t had a new game since 2014. EA wants to keep making them, but after the O’Bannon ruling said that the players weren’t compensated for their likenesses, schools put the kibosh on cooperating. The NCAA is the reason we don’t have the game right now, not EA, or Ed O’Bannon.

We’re starting to see a few schools barely start to cooperate again, at least with the Madden series. Perhaps this working group could figure out a solution to license out player likenesses to EA en masse, giving a small check after graduation for anybody that opts in.

That wouldn’t solve any structural issues with college basketball or football, or restrain bagmen from getting involved in recruiting, but it would give the NCAA a huge credibility bump with fans, and even some players. And we’d all get a dope video game again. That’d be a nice start.

Who is going to be the next Big Ten commissioner? It sure seems like Jim Phillips, huh?

The Big Ten is on the hunt to replace Jim Delaney, one of the most important and influential forces in all of college athletics…for good, and for ill. I wrote about him a bit after he announced his impending retirement. I’m a fan of a Big Ten school, and I view his tenure as pretty mixed, although great for my alma mater financially. If you’re not a Big Ten fan, I think you have more license to think he sucks.

Anyway, he’s leaving, and whoever replaces him will automatically become one of sport’s biggest voices. The Chicago Tribune caught up with some league athletic directors, and asked what they thought was going to be important in the league’s next commissioner. And if they’re telling the truth…only one candidate seems to really make sense.

“Certainly you need someone who understands this league and appreciates what this league represents,” said {Barry} Alvarez, who has been Wisconsin’s athletic director since 2004.

“A lot of people put emphasis on television, but that’s not a big issue for us,” {Gene} Smith said. “At the end of the day, (Delany) and his staff and all the ADs who were part of that have a great contract in place and good partnerships. It’s really managing what we have in place”

“From my personal perspective, the most important criterion is somebody that ‘gets’ the Big Ten,” {Bill} Beekman said. “The conference has sustained itself for many decades, has grown very carefully and thoughtfully. It has a unique culture.

Industry reports have pointed to Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips as a leading potential candidate to take over for Delaney, and as far as I am aware, he’s the only Big Ten athletic director that’s being seriously considered. Other potential candidates have come from the sports media sphere, but if league leaders don’t see media rights experience as the most important thing…who are you going to find that understands the league better than Phillips?

Would Phillips, who helped turn around a terrible athletic department into a decent one, be a good commissioner? He’s served on basically every NCAA committee there is, most school leaders seem to like him, and I think you’d have to be a pretty big idiot to not get a lot of money in the next Big Ten deal, so probably? I’m personally just hoping he’d be a mostly anonymous leader. As I’ve written before, the more your conference commissioner is in the news, the more likely it is he’s doing something stupid.

Who knows if those Big Ten ADs were telling the truth. Maybe some new candidate emerges. I don’t have a particularly strong opinion as to who the next leader should be, but if what you want is somebody who gets what the Big Ten should be about, and Barry Alvarez isn’t a candidate (and he says he isn’t, which is good). Phillips should probably be near the very top of the list.

Thanks again for your support of Extra Points. Got a question, comment, request, or hot take? Lemme at it. I’m at [email protected], and @MattSBN on Twitter.

Stay tuned for a podcast very soon!

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