Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, recently expressed dismay at a poll that was hardly a vote of confidence.
According to ESPN, 79 percent said big schools put money ahead of student-athletes, 69 percent considered those universities part of the problem, and 51 percent said the NCAA is part of the problem.
“I don’t think this is some little blip that’s going to go away over time,” Emmert said. “This is a real question of whether or not the universities and colleges, through the association, can manage their affairs.”
The poll followed a decision to issue no major sanctions against the University of North Carolina after an outrageous academic scandal.
For 18 years UNC countenanced African-American studies courses involving little more than “paper work,” administered by a staffer who routinely provided As and Bs, no matter the quality of the work. UNC prevailed — paying attorneys $18 million — because the courses were open to all students, although 47.4 percent of enrollees were athletes.
Apparently Baylor University won’t be sanctioned for its sex assault scandal, although the school admitted 17 players allegedly raped 19 women.
All told, lawsuits allege 52 rapes by 31 players from 2011-14, with five gang rapes involving two or more players over five years. Coaches allegedly encouraged women in the Baylor Bruins hostess program to have sex with recruits and players, and Baylor paid for the education of a student athletic trainer in return for her not reporting her rape.
The assumption is the NCAA is distancing itself from that mess because it involves criminal charges, despite the precedent of penalties against Penn State football, which ignored assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial sex abuse of young men and boys.
The NCAA was totally ignorant of an FBI sting in September that led to the arrest of 10 people, including four assistant basketball coaches at Power 5 schools (Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Pacific 12), charged with fraud and corruption for illegal payments to steer potential pro prospects to sports agents, financial advisers and apparel companies.
The apparel companies have a big stake. Nike pays Ohio State, Michigan and Texas more than $15 million annually (Iowa and Iowa State get $2 million and $1.5 million, respectively). UCLA recently signed a $280 million, 12-year contract with Under Armour.
Not that the NCAA is reluctant to act:
Braxton Beverly, a freshman guard, was ruled ineligible to play this year because he originally signed with the Ohio State Buckeyes and enrolled in summer school classes, but changed his mind because head coach Thad Matta was fired. Ohio State released him, he enrolled at North Carolina State, but the NCAA denied his request for an undergraduate transfer waiver.
In 2015, University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma received a secondary violation after calling fellow Philadelphian Mo’ne Davis to congratulate her for pitching a Little League World Series shutout.
The NCAA is hardly impoverished. Last year it extended the rights of CBS and Turner (TBS, TNT and Tru) to televise the national basketball tournament for another eight years for $8.8 billion. The prior contract — $11 billion for 14 years — ran through 2024.
Thanks in part to lucrative conference TV contracts, the median salary for a Southeastern Conference football coach is $4,172,500; Big 12, $3,540,788; Pac-12, $3,102,960; Big 10, $2,753,100; and ACC, $2,562,485, according to USA Today. The 25 highest-paid basketball coaches earn between $2 million and $6 million per year — without perks.
In 2014 the NCAA lost an anti-trust case in which former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon sued because athletes were denied benefits for the use of their likeness and names — primarily in video games, apparel and other sales.
The NCAA subsequently agreed to allow for “cost of attendance” to supplement athletic scholarships.
Drexel University sports management professor Ellen Staurowsky had found an annual $3,222 shortfall for athletes in revenue sports, who received no money for out-of-pocket expenses and couldn’t work, while lacking money for food off-campus and travel.
Even the term “student-athlete” is suspect, arising from a 1955 workmen’s compensation case involving a Fort Lewis A&M (Colo.) football player who died from a head injury.
After his widow initially won, the state Supreme Court reversed the decision, claiming the college received no benefit from his activities as a “student-athlete” because it wasn’t in the football business, which it deemed recreation.
“We crafted the term ‘student-athlete,’ and soon it was embedded in all NCAA rules and interpretations,” then NCAA President Walter Byers wrote in his autobiography.
The NCAA could improve its public standing by revisiting its “Alice in Wonderland” rules and quixotic enforcement, while doing more to assist athletes. Sharing broadcast and apparel revenues with the academic sides of universities — rather than the ongoing arms race over coaches’ salaries and new facilities — also is advisable.