Saturday, October 12, 2013

If I Were in Charge: 5 Ways to Fix the NCAA

I love this time of year.  It takes a lot for me to say that because I love the summer, and it is quite depressing as it comes to an end every year.  However, with the fall comes football which makes it all worth it.  We are well into yet another fantastic football season.  I love the NFL, but I catch myself more attracted to college football; partially because of all the teams to follow, but also because I usually have more time on Saturdays to sit and enjoy.  However, you can't talk about the great product on the field without mentioning all the drama and debate that has followed the game.  For every good story, there seems to be two more controversies, whether it be improper benefits, BCS vs. playoffs, or conference realignment.  To me, it seems the NCAA is sitting back and letting controversy define their product (which is still pretty amazing as it is) when it could be so much better.  It is always easier to make and question the decisions when you aren't the one responsible for them, but here are five things I would change in the way the NCAA runs college football that would make it the sport as great as it can be.
1.  Administrate, don't just police.
Ever since Mark Emmert was named the president of the NCAA, it has seemed that the NCAA as a body has become a policing agency, handing out suspensions and probations to anyone who seems to think about breaking the rules.  Roger Goddell's NFL has become very similar.  However, that's not what an administrator is for necessarily.  Sure, it is part of it, but the overall goal is to make the situation better.  Focusing so much on the negatives does not accomplish this.  Also, if so many are breaking the rules, maybe the rule is what is broken, not the violator.  Part of the problem is Mark Emmert may be the president of the NCAA,  but the university presidents have more power than he does.  If they want him to be the NCAA disciplinarian, great.  Change his title.  However, if he is the president and administrator, let him administrate.  So many times I hear about how this change should be made or that change should be made, but the university presidents won't allow it.  That's why you hired an unbiased administrator to make those decisions.  Let him do it.  When you allow the universities to make decisions, they have shown their decisions are made to do what is best for the university when decisions should be made to help benefit the student-athletes and the overall game.  Let you administrator be more than the disciplinarian.  All these other changes are assuming the fact that this happens.
2.  Fix the Conferences
Ever since Nebraska jumped ship from the Big 12 to the Big Ten before the 2011 season, there has been a mass conference realignment taking place.  Much of it has been based on (what else) money, while some were based on competition levels.  Either way, the landscape of the NCAA has been in a constant state of transition for the last three years, and it is not over with big-name schools like Maryland and Rutgers scheduled to switch conferences next year.  Many people say this is going to continue to transition and change until the NCAA consists of four "super-conferences."  There have been other rumors about creating a new division (Division 4) of the NCAA for all the big conference schools.  I have written articles on several of these possible alternatives on how they could work.  They are both solid options, but why do we have to go through 10 years of weird transition time and schools abandoning tradition for a pay day when we can institute one of these programs now and save all this in between time?

I have a couple problems with what is going on here.  First, the university should not have control over what conference they are in.  If you are going to bother with having an over-arching NCAA administration, then this is something that administration should have power over.  Second, all your BCS conferences should have the same rules, especially concerning conference dues.  The fact that schools like Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri, and Colorado ran from the Big 12 because Texas controls the conference and has rules that benefit them over everyone else in the conference is just wrong.  Third, stop pretending some of this conference realignment is about the academics, or keeping some schools out of conferences because of the academics.  Have a set academic standard across the NCAA (or again, at least in the BCS conferences) that all schools have to meet.  Finally, if you know where all this realignment is heading in the long run, institute that program now and make realignment a decision that comes from your NCAA administrator.  All of this will allow traditions to remain while keeping an overall majority of schools happy, as well as settle the uneasiness and transition the NCAA conferences are currently in.  It also keeps small schools from trying to jump up to the big conferences because of a couple years of success.  That doesn't mean a small school can't elevate themselves, but have a system set up that can qualify schools (like Boise St.) for a BCS conference while also having a system that can demote schools that are less successful.
3.  Schedules are set by the NCAA, not the individual schools.
Over the last few weeks in college football, it has been exposed just how much of a joke this is.  Why are schools allowed to schedule FCS teams in the middle of their conference play?  Sure, they pay the small schools a sum able to help support their program, but when it pads the schedules of championship contenders with wins that don't even have a chance to compete, there is something wrong.  This happens because the schools control their schedules.  Having these small schools on their schedule make it easier to contend then scheduling a game that could actually pose a challenge.  Also, when was the last time Alabama traveled to the west coast for a non-bowl game?  It was 2000 when they traveled to play UCLA.  Between now and then, they have only played four road non-conference games.  Especially recently, if they have a big non-conference game, it is in Tuscaloosa or at a neutral site close to home (Dallas is the furthest away they have gone).  Nick Saban has only played one road non-conference game, Penn St. in 2011 (and that was after Penn St. came to Alabama the year before).  There are years where they don't even play a BCS conference school in their non-conference schedule.  Now I'm picking on Alabama because, frankly, it's easy to do, but I could say the same about most of the BCS conference schools (yes, even my beloved Cornhuskers).  The fact that schools are allowed to stack their schedule has to change.  Let the NCAA set the football schedules.  With most schools having three non-conference games, BCS schools should have scheduled two BCS schools (one home, one away) in non-conference and one non-BCS school (alternating each year home/away).  FCS schools should not be allowed in the picture.  Also, schools cannot change their schedule.  They are set.  Wouldn't that make for a fun season?
4.  Set the playoff you want.
Similar to the conference realignment, a lot of people say the playoff system entering the picture in 2014 will eventually be expanded after everyone complains that the 4 team playoff is not enough.  The reason it took so long and is only at four right now is because, once again, university presidents didn't want to lose the money the bowl games offered them.  Also, their stacked schedules to pad their stats wouldn't mean so much if they ended up having to work on the back end to get to a championship game.  The NCAA administrator should be able to make a change like this that will better the game instead of letting the university presidents telling him what his job is and isn't.  Set up an 8-team or 16-team playoff.  I would like a 16-team playoff personally (see my Holiday Madness article), but set up the system you want.  Don't put the game into even more of a transition than it already is.  You can even keep the bowl games since they will mean as much with a playoff as they do without.  Just get an adequate playoff system in place.
5.  Pay the players as student workers.
It seems like more schools have been reprimanded over the last few years for improper benefits than not, highlighted by Johnny Manziel and Reggie Bush.  This is one rule where if so many schools are breaking it, maybe the system is broken.  Now I'm not saying making college football a way for a player to make millions of dollars, but there is a serious problem with the current system where universities make billions of dollars on their football teams, coaches are multi-millionaires, but the players don't have money for food.  The fact is being a student-athlete, especially in a high-profile sport at a high-profile university, is a full-time job.  Between school, practice, games, conditioning, etc., there is no time to work.  Sure, they get a free education, but when kids are coming from low-income areas (or even middle-class) and the only way they are able to attend college is their free education, then just tuition is not enough.  Other students are allowed to be employed by the university in libraries and offices and are therefore paid by the university for services rendered.  Why can't the same happen with athletes?  Allow scholarshipped athletes to be paid a maximum of 20 hours per week at minimum wage (like other student workers are allowed to do), and also provide transportation for parents to come see their kids play once or twice a year.  This isn't excessive in any way.  It doesn't allow for a bidding war for recruits or anything like that.  It's just fair.

So those are my ideas to improve college football.  Like I said, it's pretty great as it is, but it could be so much better.  Now these are things that would improve football.  Maybe another move the NCAA could do is have different rules and conference alignments and such set up for other sports.  Allow each sport to function in a way that is best for it instead of trying to find one system that works for everything.  Either way, I won't stop watching, but I also won't stop wishing...

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