Amateur In Name Alone

Today, the NCAA board voted to allow the ‘big five’ power conferences (SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10) to have more autonomy to set their own rules and regulations – basically opening the door for them to allow players to be paid and covered by insurance, to set the rules on hours dedicated to the sport of choice and the number of coaches on staff. In short, the NCAA provided the most powerful conferences with even more power and competitive advantage, and have thus have left all other schools and conferences in the dust.

I’m actually OK with the college players receiving compensation above and beyond the scholarship benefits they already receive. The rules that the NCAA has in place are amazingly outdated and onerous to the point that a plain bagel is considered a snack (and thus ok for a student athlete to eat if someone gives it to them) yet adding cream cheese to that same bagel turns it into a meal, and thus would be an NCAA violation if a student athlete accepted that as a ‘gift’ from someone.

However, the bigger concern is that this ruling has basically separated the top 5 ‘power’ conferences from the rest of the universities who play intercollegiate sports. And from that perspective, this is a pretty troubling result. It is troubling because all of these schools have been seduced by the dollars that these ‘amateur’ sports drive. Bill Snyder, the long time and well respected coach of Kansas State, took it one step further by saying everyone (his school included) has ‘sold out’ to TV at the expense of education:

“It’s no longer about education,” Snyder said. “We’ve sold out to the cameras over there, and TV has made its way, and I don’t fault TV. I don’t fault whoever broadcasts games. They have to make a living and that’s what they do, but athletics — that’s it. It’s sold out.”

“Everybody is building Taj Mahals,” Snyder said, “and I think it sends the message — and young people today I think are more susceptible to the downside of that message, and that it’s not about education. We’re saying it is, but it’s really about the glitz and the glitter, and I think sometimes values get distorted that way. I hate to think a young guy would make a decision about where he’s going to get an education based on what a building looks like.”

The importance and entertainment value of intercollegiate sports is very important to a college campus/student environment. As a Syracuse alum, some of my best memories of college centered around the basketball team, the football team (Kids, ask your parents about Floyd Little, Jim Brown, Joe Morris, Larry Csonka, Don MacPherson, and Donovan McNabb), and having a venue like the Carrier Dome on campus. To this day, going to see SU’s hoops team play is a great way to re-connect with friends from college. Yet, when these few ‘power conferences’ are given the keys to the kingdom by NCAA leadership and are driving a complete upheaval with all of this conference re-alignment, we really need to take as step back and ask “What the hell is going on here?”. That is what I would have expected the NCAA ‘leadership’ to do, but instead they have given the fox the keys to the hen house.

In the ACC today, seven of the conference’s 15 teams are former Big East teams and now the Big East conference – and the great regional rivalries – has ceased to exist as we know it. How does this make any sense? Tell me how a Syracuse – Florida State game has more relevance to their respective student bodies compared to, say, a Syracuse – UConn game or a Syracuse – Boston College game? Where each of those three schools are within a 4-5 hour drive of each other? Where students at those schools are probably far more likely to directly or indirectly know an alum from the other institutions? Isn’t part of the fun (remember when playing sports was fun!) of sports is busting on your buddy when your team beat his?

College sports has been big business for a long, long time. And the value to the campus culture beyond the sporting arena is clear. I don’t think that can be argued. Yet, the path that collegiate sports has taken to get to this point is nothing short of a shame and as Bill Snyder said in the above referenced article, “we’ve lost sight of what college athletics is all about”.

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