Rewriting NCAA rulebook
College athletics has changed over years, and so should NCAA rules
Keep things short and simple; most of all, just use common sense
Some simple commandments to follow, and harsh punishments if they are broken
Most of the college sports fans who read Michael Rosenberg's humble suggestion to the NCAA probably had a similar gut reaction. How could you? What about amateurism? What about the purity of college sports?
College sports at the highest levels have never been pure, and everyone knows it. As for the amateur ideal, that never really existed, either. You're mad because you don't want major college sports to be different from what you grew up with (even though they already are). You think you're a purist, but you aren't. If you were a purist, you would rail against the forward pass in football, and you'd scream if they didn't have a jump ball after every basket in basketball. If you truly were a purist, you certainly wouldn't argue for the sanctity of the athletic scholarship. You would, like many schools in the 1920s, consider the athletic scholarship a base form of inducement to which only the slimiest institutions would stoop. You would want your college sports played the way they were at the turn of the 20th century -- by the white guys whose parents were wealthy enough to send them to an elite college.
College sports have undergone paradigm shifts before. The NCAA nearly ruptured in 1950 over the issue of pay-for-play. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ushered in the modern era when it declared the NCAA's control of football television rights to be an illegal monopoly. Now, schools that 30 years ago received less than $1 million a year from television can receive $20 million or more a year from the sale of television rights. Another shift is coming, and when the rules change, the governing body (bodies?) of college sports will need a new rulebook.
Preferably, that rulebook will be short. That way, everyone will understand the rules. Ignorance or confusion won't be acceptable excuses for misbehavior. The NCAA's enforcement arm will handle only a few critical crimes. That probably will please the NCAA's investigative unit, because most investigators didn't go to law school to count illegal text messages to 17-year-olds.
What follows isn't a complete rulebook, but it outlines the new rules in the most important areas. The complete rulebook shouldn't cover more than 50 pages; the current NCAA Division I manual checks in at 434 pages.
Schools would not be allowed to pay athletes beyond an actual-cost-of-attendance scholarship. Except at the very top of the food chain, schools can't afford to pay more than they already do. Plus, any pay-for-play system run through the schools would require the schools to continue to pay everyone -- from the star quarterback to the setter on the volleyball team -- equally. This is ludicrous. The setter on the volleyball team isn't worth what the star quarterback is worth. Plus, only a small fraction of the athletes at FBS schools are worth more on the open market than the value of their scholarships. But just because most computer programmers make a decent living doesn't mean Bill Gates shouldn't make more than the rest. He's special. Special athletes deserve a chance to realize their market value. So what if someone else was willing to pay these athletes?
Enter the Olympic model. The Olympics didn't disintegrate after the rules were amended to allow athletes to take outside endorsement deals. If not for the rule change, some of the best skiers, swimmers and runners might never have realized their Olympic dreams because they would have had to get real jobs to put food on the table. If Visa were willing to pay Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck $500,000 a year, who would that hurt? Allow athletes to take money from outside sources, and require the company paying the athlete to disclose the amount and the terms to the compliance department at the athlete's school. Athletes would be banned from accepting money from gambling entities -- as they are now -- but everything else would be fair game. This also would resolve many Title IX issues. Everyone would have the same opportunity, because anyone the marketplace considers valuable would get paid. If Notre Dame women's basketball player Skylar Diggins had been offered endorsement deals after Lil' Wayne wore her jersey during a concert in April, Diggins would be allowed to capitalize on her marketability.
What about boosters? If Bob's Tractors, which has a luxury box at Big State, wants to give Big State's starting left tackle an endorsement deal, that's fine. The argument against this is that the schools with the wealthiest donors would get all the best recruits. How would that be any different than what happens now? Except instead of a booster-funded team meeting room with Corinthian leather seats, some money would wind up in the player's pocket. Coaches would still have to properly evaluate talent, and if recent history has taught us anything, many of them have not honed that skill. Less wealthy schools would have just as much of a chance to win as they do now. There would be bidding wars for top recruits, but again, how would that be any different than what happens now? Under this system, it would happen in the open instead of in the shadows, and it wouldn't cost Big State any scholarships down the road.
Subsection A to Pay-for-play
When a school sells a jersey featuring a current player's number, the player receives five percent of the gross revenue from the sale of each jersey.
Subsection B to Pay-for-play
If an athlete chooses to take advantage of the opportunity to cash in, he or she must first pay back the value of his or her athletic scholarship before realizing a profit. Consider it a licensing fee.
Allow players to have agents. Instead of an agent task force, the NCAA would maintain an agent registry. Every agent who wants to represent a college athlete would have to be licensed -- for a fee, of course -- and any violations of the rules would result in a permanent revocation of said license. That would keep agents in line. Players don't want to get in trouble, so they'll be naturally inclined to sign with an agent the NCAA approves. An agent wouldn't risk losing a lead on a future star, so he would have a powerful incentive to follow the rules.
The agents could negotiate deals for the players. Since players are allowed to cut outside deals, the agents are allowed to provide money to their clients -- provided that money isn't tied to gambling.