The amateur NCAA model is dead

Like many southerners, I grew up in college sport. They are in my blood like a lifelong fascination, bordering on obsession.

I love college sports and always will.

I just grew up not to like them very much.

Such awareness did not come suddenly, but it is as tangible as anything I have witnessed in over two decades covering closely – at one time or another – half of the schools in the Conference. from the South East. It was not a case, a place, a person or a program. Not a waterfall, but a slow drop of disenchantment and disgust at the NCAA’s general incompetence and stubborn insistence on a laborious process to maintain its outdated system of amateurism.

But lately something different: Hope.

I’m more optimistic about varsity sports now than I have been in a long time, in large part because of two late developments: Athletes are finally allowed to enjoy their fame, number one, and United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh rip in the NCAA because a “business model would be outright illegal in almost every other industry in America.”

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Hooray. We are finally – finally – able to admit how absurd it all has been.

It will not mean the end of college sports as we know them. This will hopefully lead to reforms and a very different structure. I’m thinking about player representation, collective bargaining, maybe even commissioners, but I can’t say for sure. That can?

There are so many uncertainties right now and so much to do that the NCAA in its current form – quite frankly – can’t be trusted to navigate it. Not after years of doing nothing to anticipate impending change.

But would you have expected better? This is an organization that appears to need a committee to vote to recommend another committee to schedule a meeting to discuss the recommendation.

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The NCAA is mired in procedural bureaucracy and always reactive, not proactive. And honestly, what is it for more?

It cannot effectively control institutions in a timely manner. See FBI investigation into remaining college basketball largely unreasoned years later by the NCAA.

He cannot effectively manage his championships. Remember the insulting inequities in men’s and women’s basketball tournaments or the fact that an NCAA Women’s Championship the regional golf course has been canceled altogether this year?

And now it looks like the NCAA can no longer do what it was tasked with doing foremost – providing cover for college presidents and chancellors who have long taken advantage of unpaid athletes while hiding under the hood. mantle of “amateurism” from the NCAA.

NCAA President Mark Emmert told the organization's more than 1,200 member schools last week that he would ask for temporary rules as early as July to ensure all athletes can be compensated for their fame with a host of impending state laws and seemingly blocked congressional efforts.

It all goes away and it will take time for everyone to adjust.

It will be chaotic for a while. Even as we step into a wild west where rule-breaking reigns and no one can say what’s right and what isn’t, is it really that much different from what we had? Only now there are fewer rules. Which is good. This means fewer rules to apply.

The public has long been trained to view varsity athletics – and therefore every program – as “clean” when athletes do not receive additional benefits and “dirty” if they are, thus violating bloated NCAA rules. intended to protect the concept of amateurism at the expense of common sense and decency for many of its top athletes. If they are caught, they are usually the ones who are vilified.

I am not talking about real scandals. Those exist on university campuses.

I’m talking about mundane and relatively mundane violations – in which no one was harmed – that became major stories when they went through the painstaking NCAA compliance and violation process.

My hands are dirty too. As a professional beatwriter trying to do my job well, I chased a lot of these “scandals” out as if it were Watergate:

Athletes exploit a loophole which allowed them to help their friends to buy textbooks, a reader accept an airplane flight with the father of a high school friend who was also a booster, other players sell a jersey or sell autographs.

I was working on “The Scandal Beat”, as invented in 2011 by Daniel Libit of the Columbia Journalism Review (tip of the hat to the Washington Post for the link).

“The reporting, intentionally or not,” wrote Libit, “promotes the idea that the corruption that plagues the NCAA is the problem, rather than just a symptom of a system that is fundamentally broken.”

We missed the forest staring at the trees, and deep down I think everyone was probably familiar with the deal with major college football programs. An athlete earning a few hundred dollars more was understandable imminently, and it probably wasn’t that rare or blatant.

Disgust came from having to pretend it was.

Because these players were technically breaking the rules. And that mattered. It was huge news.

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Coaches and ADs could be made redundant. The programs are expected to go before the NCAA Committee on Offenses. They would be put on probation and their victories would be overturned, as was the case in Alabama for the textbook investigation I mentioned. Each example listed above resulted in a multi-game suspension for the football players I covered. Star players, in most cases.

Names you would know when they were hung and splashed across the headlines and screens nationwide – an indignity that in most cases they didn’t deserve and didn’t get a paycheck to have to endure.

I don’t know what the next step is for college sports. But whatever it is, it will be better than that.

Perhaps the best part is this: Does your favorite player want to get paid for a local ad or social media following? Awesome. Who cares The beauty of athletes getting paid off is that you don’t have to worry about them getting paid off.

This era of college sports is over.

Long live university sport.

Contact Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.

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About Gail Mena

Gail Mena

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