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NCAA Lost a Lifeline With Miami Debacle

The misconduct in the Miami investigation certain is a black mark on the history of the NCAA and throws the organization into disarray in the present. The NCAA has made a lot of decisions and rules that people disagree with over the years, but rare are the cases where the conduct of the national office itself is universally condemned by both the public and the membership. At the same time major regulatory overhauls are underway, the NCAA must now also repair the enforcement staff, rather than just the penalty structure and Committee on Infractions.

But the biggest blow to the NCAA was not to its reputation or to its present standing. Rather, one possible long-term future of the NCAA was lost with the mishandling of the Miami case and the quick move to deliver the Notice of Allegations before the ink was dry on the NCAA’s external review. Like it or not, uncertainty about the NCAA’s future means rocky times ahead for college athletics at all levels.

It is no longer a question of if but when there is a major transformation of the top level of college athletics in favor of the largest schools. That transformation could take one of three forms:

  • Changing Division I radically, beyond the current push for deregulation;
  • Creation of a new division within the NCAA; or
  • A group of schools leaving the NCAA and launching a new intercollegiate athletics association.

The first two are not devestating events for the NCAA, so long as the rest of the NCAA (Divisions II and III along with the have-nots of Division I) do not concede too much to the big boys. The third would be, especially if it was not a football organization, but instead an all-sports organization that included the most valuable men’s basketball programs.

But a new organization will need a regulatory arm. The idea that a bunch of schools that cannot operate in packs of 8–14 without decent sized rule-books are going to operate a national organization of 50–150 schools based on a pamphlet of regulations and no enforcement arm is laughable. Not to mention that the presidents and conference commissioners which control college athletics have expressed no support for radical deregulation or abandoning amateurism and academic standards. Heck, they have not even agreed to let some technical recruiting rules fall by the wayside.

A successor to the NCAA will have a rulebook of at least 100 pages and will need someone to enforce those rules. To boost public trust, the schools making up this new association may appoint an independent third party to do investigations, interpret rules, make eligibility determinations, and levy punishments. Just like many have demanded the NCAA do for years.

Prior to the Miami investigation, the NCAA was one of the most logical candiates. If the NCAA was not operating the tournaments, it reduces the conflict of interest inherent when the same organization has to punish the schools most important to its biggest source of revenue. And as much as the NCAA is ridiculed for how it handles its regulatory functions, no other organization has any experience in this area. Arms-length dealing with a set of schools could lead to an agreement that improves on the current enforcement system without throwing away the institutional knowledge and experience the NCAA has gained.

That would give the NCAA a fighting chance at surviving to keep the remains of Division I and Divisions II and III alive. Revenue from this agreement along with other sources like the Eligibility Center (which the new organization might still use), TV contracts (albeit smaller), ticket sales, etc. may still fund some version of the 89 tournaments the NCAA runs. There would be cut backs, but a slide all the way to the levels of the NAIA could be avoided.

Not anymore though. With the mistakes in the Miami investigation, it is hard to see the largest schools throwing away one of the chief benefits of being in the NCAA (the national office as whipping boy) but still trust the NCAA to handle the enforcement of their rules. If there is a split, there is now no chance that the NCAA would be an option as a third-party enforcement arm. The new organization will either hire someone else or will gut the NCAA of its best people and practices to seed its own internal regulatory wing.

That means the loss of a significant potential revenue source for the NCAA following a split and a period of growing pains for a new organization. A new national office that does not appear to be an improvement over the NCAA at the same time revenue stops growing while expenses keep going up may bring about one of the doomsday scenarios facing college sports over the next 15–25 years.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!