BY Art Thiel 07:00AM 06/09/2011

Thiel: Time for BCS to break away from NCAA

The scandals and corruptions of big-time football should inspire the reform-resistant BCS schools to break away and form their own business independent of the NCAA.

The list of things for Jim Tressel to smile about has recently undergone a large reduction. / Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Given the choice between, say, writing about another violations/corruption scandal at a big-time college sports program, or having a Kodiak grizzly chew my thumbs off . . .

Bring out the rye bread and mustard: It’s hand salami time.

Nevertheless, events of recent days offer a sliver of hope that a pivot point has arrived for the raging hypocrisy consuming college football. And I need thumbs for the space bar.

The pending fall of the athletic house at Ohio State, coupled with USC having its 2004 BCS championship fig leaf pulled away, coincidentally puts a couple of exclamation points this week around the idea that reform is not just past due, it’s time for rags and kerosene.

Two of football’s most prestigious programs, which practically have “Rose Bowl” stamped on their birth certificates, are in the NCAA dungeon, one convicted, one about to be tried and convicted.

Both are guilty of providing benefits to players deemed improper by NCAA rules, much as was the case at Washington in the 1950s with Hugh McElhenny and in the 1990s with Billy Joe Hobert (and the no-work jobs program), as well as just about every big-time program across the fruited plain since men began inflating pig bladders for sport.

Two recent developments add some momentum:: Management of the industry is being declared impossible by many of the highest-paid managers, the coaches; and the industry is so robust that it can afford to do something about it.

Here is what University of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said earlier this week in his first public comments about coach Jim Tressel’s forced resignation at Ohio State:

“Listen, if people think that I’m going to be chasing around, following my players around, that’s not happening,” he said. “If I have to do that, I’m gonna do your (media) job, or do someone else’s job. I’m not coaching.”

The same contempt for the notion of being an eternal babysitter was expressed in a different way by Pete Carroll, now Seahawks coach but the man in charge at USC when violations occurred that made running back Reggie Bush ineligible.

“Unfortunately, it’s about awareness,” Carroll said a year ago in Seattle after the sanctions were announced.  ”It is about one person in a community where a kid (Bush) came from who decided to take advantage of his potential good fortune. And he found a way in to make that happen — outside of any of the university issues and setting and all that.

“They didn’t want anyone else to know. And we didn’t know.”

Stoops and Carroll may be correct that they didn’t know and/or can’t know all the deeds and misdeeds of more than 100 players in their charge.

To which the by-laws of the NCAA say: So?

The NCAA is a voluntary association of 1,300 member schools, whose presidents, athletic directors and coaches are signatories to the rules upon all of which have agreed. They can no more disregard the improper-benefits rules than they can disregard the 10-yard requirement for a first down.

The rules were not imposed by federal government, the Taliban or a Kiwanis club. If the rules say that the coaches are accountable, then ignorance is no excuse.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, dealing with a couple of players, Johri Fogerson and Jordan Polk, who broke the law, put it this way before spring practice.

“I’ve got 115 sons and we are going to make some mistakes,” he said. “That’s the reality of it. We try to learn from one another, we try to learn from our own, and you try to move forward and grow.”

When it comes to transgressions of law, that’s a little easier to say. Either the cops are right or wrong; the court system will offer some independent fairness. The “115 sons” approach is harder when it comes to NCAA rules, because none of the rules have to do with civil or criminal law. Nor does the NCAA have subpoena power to compel witnesses to provide evidence and testimony.

So there is no independence, no jurisdiction over third parties, no swift adjudication and no consequences for parties who leave the schools. It’s self-policing at its most inadequate.

And expensive. Another top manager, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, resigned Tuesday after a series of scandals and coach firings. The Tennessean newspaper reported last month that the firings in Hamilton’s eight-year tenure have cost the athletic department more than $9 million in buyouts. And Hamilton’s own buyout will push the collective figure to more than $10 million.

$10 million? That builds a college softball or soccer stadium.

So the absurdities, already well established in college sports, grow rapidly.

The sliver of hope?  Make College Football Inc., largely its own business, mostly independent of the NCAA.

For the big schools part of the six conferences of the BCS, the money is there, or soon will be: the Pac-12′s recent  $3 billion, 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox means $225 million a year for the Pac-10, more than three times the average annual value of the expiring deal.

The new arrangement, which includes creation of the Pac-12 Network that gets part of the action, follows similar whoppers for the Big 10, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences. The TV revenues represent an incredible windfall for all schools in a time of budget crises that threaten many. It makes college football more professional than it was and even less connected to the mission statements of the schools.

The idea of BCS schools breaking away to form their own entity is not new; in fact, some see the shuffling of schools among conferences to be a precursor to what many in the industry privately regard as inevitable.

What they didn’t foresee is Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, when asked in March whether Tressel’s building troubles might cause Gee to fire him, saying, ”No, are you kidding me? Let me be very clear. I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

Besides being the dumbest thing said by a president since “mission accomplished,” it retired to mythology the idea that universities run athletic departments, rather than the other way around.

A breakaway would be a complicated deal. College Football Inc. would have to agree to subsidize the non-revenue sports in the manner they do now, in exchange for use of their facilities, images and alumni lists. CFI would not be tax-exempt, and would pay tuition for athletes who actually wanted to go to class.

But with the TV money on the table, it is doable. And it would provide monumental relief from all the hypocrisy, dishonesty and babysitting currently required to prop up the phony concept of amateurism that is merely a disguise for a sweat shop.

The alternative is to accept the scandals and witch hunts that will be an increasingly regular feature of 24/7 media outlets, often fed by school rivals. This week, ESPN did an “Outside the Lines” story on (now former) Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor that featured an anonymous “ex-friend” snitching that Pryor made thousands of dollars selling prohibited contraband.

Guns to terrorists? Drugs to kids? No. Memorabilia bearing his autograph.

Time to break away. Don’t make us reach for the rags and kerosene.


YourThoughts

  • Pete

    Maybe instead of getting rid of the NCAA they should get rid of dirty programs.

    • Snuckie1234

      what is dirty? cause they violate stupid nonsensical petty rules that just hurt the players you LOVE to watch. give me a break. then theyre all dirty …. thats the point

  • Pete

    Maybe instead of getting rid of the NCAA they should get rid of dirty programs.

    • Snuckie1234

      what is dirty? cause they violate stupid nonsensical petty rules that just hurt the players you LOVE to watch. give me a break. then theyre all dirty …. thats the point

  • Michael Kaiser

    This really all comes back to the press and the public feeding off each other.  They have blown the spectator sport of watching young boys and girls play sports into such a big thing that–given human nature–the corruption we see as a result is inevitable.  Remove live TV and radio coverage from college sports and watch  what would happen over time.

  • doodah_man

    A rehash of the same old story. Too bad you have to read it to find out. Thiel is proof that the bottom of the class goes to sportswriters…

    • Art Thiel

      Doodah, 
         Thanks for joining me at the bottom. Of the story, I mean. 

  • doodah_man

    A rehash of the same old story. Too bad you have to read it to find out. Thiel is proof that the bottom of the class goes to sportswriters…

    • Art Thiel

      Doodah, 
         Thanks for joining me at the bottom. Of the story, I mean. 

  • Johnrstark

    When a baseball player flunks the drug test, they don’t penalize the team because that would hurt the sport. Imagine punishing the Yankees by making them ineligible for the playoffs for the next three years. But that’s exactly what the NCAA does–because the players have usually reaped their rewards and moved out of ncaa jurisdiction by the time it all hits the fan. So two of the NCAA’s biggest football attractions, USC and Ohio State, are pushed to the margins … and this makes everything better how? I’m with Art. Pay the players. Students get paid to work in the library and cafeteria. Why not on the football field. I do think the football players should be required to be real students taking (and passing) real classes. Otherwise, how is the BCS different from the NFL?

  • Johnrstark

    When a baseball player flunks the drug test, they don’t penalize the team because that would hurt the sport. Imagine punishing the Yankees by making them ineligible for the playoffs for the next three years. But that’s exactly what the NCAA does–because the players have usually reaped their rewards and moved out of ncaa jurisdiction by the time it all hits the fan. So two of the NCAA’s biggest football attractions, USC and Ohio State, are pushed to the margins … and this makes everything better how? I’m with Art. Pay the players. Students get paid to work in the library and cafeteria. Why not on the football field. I do think the football players should be required to be real students taking (and passing) real classes. Otherwise, how is the BCS different from the NFL?

  • 1coolguy

    The only  solution to this, and it’s fairy easy, is the institution of a fine system, as pro sports have for their athletes.

    Infractions can be categorized into a few categoeis (bad, worse, worst, etc) and the fines levied against the HEAD COACH AND the UNIVERSITY.

    A scale of say $10,000 for a minor offense to both, $50,000, then $100,000 or higher, believe me, will cause 100% of the NCAA institutions AND coaches to pay attention.

    This is not difficult and for a coach to say there are too many athletes to keep track of – guess what? TOUGH LUCK! Businesses don’t have much problem policing the actions of their employees and they are much larger organizations.

    One place I’d start is all athletes must live in the dorms – not paying rent or for meals takes a huge financial issue away from the athletes, therefore lessens the pressure to scramble for cash.

    If put before a group of corporate HR people, a detailed draft proposal to solve this ongoing issue could be completed in very short order for the NCAA.

    The only thing I can see missing is the will to staighten out the system.

    PS: Paying the athletes is foolish – there are at least 110 D-1 universities with tens of thousends of athletes. How do you pay a football player and not a swim team member? If a kid, after dorm and meals are taken care of (see above) together with their monthly stipend still isn’t enough, guess what? Maybe in the off-season they can GET A JOB! Maybe they don’t need a CAR. Maybe they can go to a JC their first few years, as Warren Moon did.

    To say simply “let’s pay them” is a lazy solution where solutions already exist.

  • 1coolguy

    The only  solution to this, and it’s fairy easy, is the institution of a fine system, as pro sports have for their athletes.

    Infractions can be categorized into a few categoeis (bad, worse, worst, etc) and the fines levied against the HEAD COACH AND the UNIVERSITY.

    A scale of say $10,000 for a minor offense to both, $50,000, then $100,000 or higher, believe me, will cause 100% of the NCAA institutions AND coaches to pay attention.

    This is not difficult and for a coach to say there are too many athletes to keep track of – guess what? TOUGH LUCK! Businesses don’t have much problem policing the actions of their employees and they are much larger organizations.

    One place I’d start is all athletes must live in the dorms – not paying rent or for meals takes a huge financial issue away from the athletes, therefore lessens the pressure to scramble for cash.

    If put before a group of corporate HR people, a detailed draft proposal to solve this ongoing issue could be completed in very short order for the NCAA.

    The only thing I can see missing is the will to staighten out the system.

    PS: Paying the athletes is foolish – there are at least 110 D-1 universities with tens of thousends of athletes. How do you pay a football player and not a swim team member? If a kid, after dorm and meals are taken care of (see above) together with their monthly stipend still isn’t enough, guess what? Maybe in the off-season they can GET A JOB! Maybe they don’t need a CAR. Maybe they can go to a JC their first few years, as Warren Moon did.

    To say simply “let’s pay them” is a lazy solution where solutions already exist.

  • inert1

    I enjoy seeng the Idahos of the world make a bowl game on occasion, and I would have loved to play football and not work 40 hours a week while I attended college. Guess I’m not doing a very good job of espousing things that will give me a chance to hang with the cool people.

  • inert1

    I enjoy seeng the Idahos of the world make a bowl game on occasion, and I would have loved to play football and not work 40 hours a week while I attended college. Guess I’m not doing a very good job of espousing things that will give me a chance to hang with the cool people.

  • Michael Kaiser

    This really all comes back to the press and the public feeding off each other.  They have blown the spectator sport of watching young boys and girls play sports into such a big thing that–given human nature–the corruption we see as a result is inevitable.  Remove live TV and radio coverage from college sports and watch  what would happen over time.