It's leap day and while it only comes around only once every four years the conversation being had around our sport today is the same as it has been for the last several years. Players' rights, players' advocates, unfair treatment, scholarship gaps and athlete compensation is as pressing an issue now as it has ever been and yesterday a couple things happened that were on the plus side if you side with the athletes.
If you side with the system I recommend you brush up on the enemy; even though the fact that you think improving the situation of student athletes is something to rail against is bothersome for me. Both sides have their reason and yesterday struck a win for the pro student both in reality and in helping raise awareness.
We'll kick off with the big news that got a lot of folks jazzed up as the NCAA members elected to allow the giving up four year scholarships to student athletes. To explain it simply the issue was voted on late in 2011 and was approved by the member institutions, this month the institutions voted on an override, an override would kill the measure and not allow for the four year scholarships to be given.
As CBS pointed out above and thanks to the Chronicle we get a view of the schools that were all for the override measure including some 30 BCS or future BCS programs. Yes, Nick Saban's Alabama and Les Miles' LSU were two of the teams invovled in the 30. However, so was Wisconsin, the entire future Big XII a few other big boys including USC, Florida State and Clemson from a recruiting standpoint.
Um, for one, no shit. It is a recruiting tool. Saban has a history of making use of any and all tools that are afforded him when it comes to recruiting. This becomes much like skype, texts, unofficial visits, official visits, letters, phone calls and in-home visits; a tool in the nation's best recruiter's toolbox.
As for the cynicism involved with Saban's comments about being happy to offer the deals, I get that he's an easy target but he's far from alone. Hell, Derek Dooley has been one of the more vocal defenders of oversigning as of late and his school, Tennessee, voted for the override as well.
In the end bravo for the measure passing and I'm glad to see a large number of schools on board for the move. That said, I'm not really as impressed with the move as I was during it's inception when paired with the $2,000 full cost stipend, which most of the big schools, including Alabama, did vote for.
All we're talking here are multiyear deals and pardon me for taking an arm's length approach to embracing this move. Not because I think it will cripple teams the way a lot of the BS spin noted from schools against the measure from the start. Not because of the money involved in this move because ultimately it is not much more money.
No color me skeptical because, at least right now on the surface, I do not see any benefit to the four year scholarship beyond a coach being able to tell a player "we want to give you a four year deal" in an effort to land the player. Perhaps I'm jaded through being so close to the game but how is this deal any different than what players already have?
Current System: Players who are problems and/or are not contributing operate on a tight leash. Violate the nebulous team rules and they are thrown from school. Fail a drug test and you're dismissed from school. Not able to get fully healthy and they slap a hardship on you. Get asked to transfer and decline and the coach finds a way to make you want to transfer.
That's how rosters get managed now. With one year deals.
Future System: The same things happen and the players are still gone.
I fail to see this massive revolution that others are cheerleading. Without the full cost stipend, which has somehow disappeared from the headlines, this doesn't actually help much or change the system, save from the front end.
Which brings us to the system and something that I highly recommend you check out if you get a chance, a discussion that was had at UNC with guests William C. Friday of the Knight Commission, Taylor Branch author of The Shame of College Sports and Charles Clodfelter author of Big Time Sports in American Universities. The video is all here and if you've got time definitely give it a listen.
A couple of points raised by these three very knowledgeable gentleman; schools forcing change to the system and the respect for a university's mission, student athlete advocacy and representation, the grand old topic of compensation and the internal NCAA conflict.
With all due respect to Friday, Clodfelter and most definitely Branch the idea that schools whether they're UNC and Duke as they mentioned or Ohio State and Michigan the idea that schools would or could change the culture is lost upon me. For starters these are athletic departments built on maximizing revenue; that's why they play games on days that ESPN or CBS or Fox Sports tells them to. They aren't about wrestling control from the networks, if anything they're about giving them more control as long as more control means more money.
Television says jump and the schools say how high.
If tradition or mission or any of that other stuff mattered schools wouldn't be rushing to dump their old friends and rivals for new ones to get a bigger paycheck. So the idea that it does matter to a school, to a conference or to the sport is just a joke for me. The money matter more because the money hopefully leads to wins and wins help raise the one program over the others and that's all that people actually care about.
Now we get to student athlete advocacy and representation. The idea that a student athlete association could work wonders for the collective group is truly correct. The issue is this is damn near impossible to get off of the ground. Ever heard of the NCPA? Not surprised because most people haven't. Including most college athletes.
Athletes uniting in the face of the system is not something that the NCAA or its member institutions is about. The system as it stands now works because of the forced amateurism on the players, the only amateur portion of the money making machine. Athletes working together, having a voice and speaking out is not something that's a plus for those driving the carriage. Keep the athletes quiet, keep blinders on them as they drag the NCAA carriage on their work.
The discussion also hit on UNC football as John Shoop, the Heels former Offensive Coordinator, spoke up asking if the schools should do more to protect their own players from the NCAA. Again Shoop spoke to the issue of the UNC administration throwing their own players to the NCAA wolves instead of standing their ground with the athletes who were supposed to be part of the "Carolina Family."
Funny thing here? Taylor Branch mentioned that UNC's athletes have been barred from talking to Branch, a student-athlete advocate by their coaches. So both sides of the advocacy and representation become even more real as it is clear that folks just "want dem boys and girls to play and shut up."
Ah compensation, plenty has been written about this topic but the one moment last night that stood out was when a student asked the ever popular question from normal students who "deserve" to be there more than them dumb athletes: if you pay them why would they ever bother graduation? Wouldn't that just ruin the school?
The question was handled well as I believe Branch quickly responded with by asking the student if he had a job would that make him not want to graduate. Basically the most basic point out there and one that people routinely cloud, This isn't about making the kids rich but it is about imrpoving the condition of someone who is, make no mistake here, working a job during school.
Lastly Branch, Friday and Clodfelter hit on something that will become an ever pressing topic as the BCS schools push towards what appears to be a playoff; a fight with the NCAA. Big time college football is a trailblazer with regards to how they keep the NCAA's paws off of their money. They already sued the NCAA for the conferences to negotiate their tv rights independent of the NCAA. The sport also hosts its own post-season independent of the NCAA to which they contribute damn near nothing to the folks in Indy.
Should this four team playoff go well expect folks to wonder why in the hell they're wasting their time with the NCAA when it comes to basketball. Basketball, the tournament specifically, is the single biggest cash dump and the NCAA is divying that money up while taking their own big share. But why? Because that's just how they've done it? These conferences are putting on their own tournaments, working with TV networks to set up their own marquee games and the like; they know what they're doing for the most part.
How this pressure increases when guys like Larry Scott, Jim Delany, Mike Slive who are all about dollar signs start to explore the possibility it could make for some real issues in Indy.
As I said before watch the video folks, no the quality isn't great but the knowledge dropped is superb. If you wanna talk about it more, hit me up on the twitter because more discussion is never a bad thing.