Rewriting NCAA rulebook (cont.)
A player caught gambling on sports of any kind -- even legally -- is permanently banned from competition. A coach caught gambling on sports of any kind is permanently banned from employment at any NCAA school. An official caught gambling on sports of any kind is permanently banned from working NCAA-sanctioned events. The punishments are harsh because they have to be. With all the other shadowy forces brought into the light, fixed games are the only scandal that could crush college sports. With money available elsewhere, the incentive to associate with gamblers should be minimal. But just in case, a few Draconian punishments should strengthen athletes' resolve.
Love National Signing Day? Too bad. It's gone. Every student who has entered the ninth grade -- the NCAA's definition of a "prospective student-athlete" -- is eligible to sign a National Letter-of-Intent. The only catch? Before the athlete signs, the school must pay for an official visit for the athlete and a parent or guardian. During this visit, school officials must explain the terms of the NLI.
Now, schools cheat by paying middlemen to ferry prospects on unofficial visits they couldn't otherwise afford. Ever wonder how a dirt-poor player from Miami takes unofficial visits to 12 different schools? Because someone paid for them. Meanwhile, coaches exacerbate the problem by tossing out triple-digit offers for a 25-man football class and then pressuring players to commit before their senior seasons begin. A coach would not be so quick to offer that scholarship to a high school sophomore if he knew it would take away one of his available scholarships for a signing class two years away. Plus, many athletic directors will want to see a glowing transcript and a qualifying standardized test score before they sign off on an early offer.
The NLI system also needs an overhaul. At the moment, the NLI is one of the worst contracts in America. It forbids a player from being recruited by other schools, but it doesn't force the school to give the player a scholarship. If a school oversigns, the player has no legal recourse, and nothing happens to the school. It's time the NLI got some teeth. Now, if a school signs an academically qualified player and doesn't deliver on the promised scholarship, it loses the right to participate in the NLI program for five years in the offending sport. That means if Tech U oversigns and can't deliver a scholarship to a player, for the next five years Tech U's recruits will remain on the open market until the moment they set foot in a classroom at Tech U.
These rules will put the teenager ahead of the multimillionaire coach. The system has been tilted in the other direction for far too long.
Subsection A to Recruiting Issues
The current NCAA Division I manual devotes nine pages to the rules that govern when and how coaches can contact recruits. The new rulebook will need one page and one chart.
Phone calls are unlimited. Have you tried to get a 16-year-old on the phone recently? They don't answer. Ever. They can dodge an annoying coach quite easily.
Text messages are unlimited. The NCAA currently bans the preferred method of communication for America's youth. Brilliant.
All other forms of communication are unlimited. This includes Facebook, Twitter, AOL Instant Messenger, Xbox live and any form of communication yet to be invented. Mark Zuckerberg rendered the NCAA's contact rules forever obsolete when Facebook tweaked its direct message function last year. Stop fighting, NCAA. If the kids want to talk to a coach, they will. If they don't, they won't.
The chart will feature the dates for each sport when in-person contacts and evaluations are allowed. For instance, football coaches -- including the head coach -- would be allowed to visit schools in May of each year to evaluate prospects. They also would be allowed to speak to prospects during those visits, because the current NCAA bump rule is stupid, impossible to enforce and never fails to inspire a brigade of amateur NCAA investigators to seek evidence of a scofflaw coach chatting up a recruit. Football coaches also would be able to visit high schools and recruits' homes in December and January. They also would be allowed unlimited in-person communication with recruits on their own college campus.
If a player wants to transfer to another Division I school, he or she may do so but must sit out one year of competition. This includes transfers within a conference. Coaches will not be allowed to block a player's release to another school. The athletes are people -- not property.
The graduate student exception would remain in effect. This is the best rule currently on the NCAA's books, and it deserves a place in the new rulebook. An athlete who has earned a bachelor's degree may transfer to another school for graduate school and play immediately.
If a school chooses to fire its coach, all players on that coach's team have until the start of the next semester to decide whether they want to remain or transfer with no penalty. This might slow the coaching revolving door -- or it might not. But at least it gives the athletes a say in their future.
All scholarships remain one-year, renewable deals. But should a coach decide to cut athletes to free up space for newer models, those athletes are eligible to transfer to any other school without penalty.
In May, Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun -- who has had some recent NCAA trouble of his own -- kibitzed with reporters during the Big East's spring meetings. "Just give me some commandments to follow," Calhoun said. And he's correct. The NCAA has too many "major violations," and it has no middle ground between murder and jaywalking. So if major violations are going to be treated seriously, let's pick a few critical issues and enforce them with extreme prejudice. Don't worry about the rest. George Carlin had it correct. The fewer commandments, the better.
I No gambling.
II No academic fraud. (If you're an athlete, don't cheat on your schoolwork. If you're a coach, don't help your athletes cheat on their schoolwork.)
III No cheating. (No spying on other teams. No using ineligible players. This is common sense.)
IV No lying to the NCAA. (When all else fails, it's nice to have a catch-all.)
So what happens when a program gets popped for major violations? Now, the players who enroll at the school post-scandal suffer mightily. The new punishments might still hurt future players somewhat, but they'll be a more effective deterrent against further chicanery, and they'll probably result in house-cleaning at penalized schools. The new punishment formula is simple, and it doesn't include any postseason bans or scholarship reductions.
A school guilty of a major violation owes the NCAA a year's worth of athletic department revenue, payable over a 10-year period. So if Texas gets nailed, it owes $143 million. If Ohio State gets nailed, it owes $123 million. If Vanderbilt gets nailed -- hey, stranger things have happened -- it would owe $49.9 million.
These rules wouldn't cover every eventuality in the brave new world of college sports, but they would cover most of them. If something unexpected arose, certainly the NCAA would appoint a committee to study the feasibility of appointing a working group to discuss adding to the rules. After all, it's still the NCAA.
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