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Lay Off Laying Off the NCAA

Kevin Beane of Sports Central has the right idea about NCAA criticism, but falls into many of the same traps as the critics:

The piece [about the WCC golfer car-washing incident] goes on predictably to excoriate the NCAA, in a style reminiscent of Yahoo commenters who will blame everything from tornadoes to "Breaking Bad" ending on Obama. Both the Petchesky piece and the Cosentino piece end on the same note: the NCAA oversees a "unsustainable, unpoliceable behemoth" (Petchesky) and "the NCAA's rules only exist to perpetuate the lie of student-athlete 'amateurism.'"

Bad NCAA criticism cherry picks the worst mistakes or decisions in college athletics, assumes motives, often applies one-size-fits-all solutions (i.e. every problem is an amateurism problem), uses rhetoric that does not match the situation or the call to action and lacks technical rigor in connecting the rules to the decision to the effects. Bad NCAA defense falls into all the same traps.

"There are 400,000 NCAA student-athletes and not all them will have a good experience" is not a good PR slogan, but it is a good starting point for discussing the NCAA. No matter how hard you try, some athletes will not get what they should have out of college athletics. That could be money, an education, professional training, or just another four years playing sports.

Tearing down the NCAA or defending it as-is based on the outcome of one or two cases are both equally short-sighted. Even on a smaller scale of a breakaway organization, college athletics has to be judged on the aggregate effect across tens of thousands of athletes. Pointing to Kolton Houston to defend a "rules are rules" approach is little different than using the WCC golfer to incite a pitchforks and torches mob.

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