In other sports news, some college sports scandals are back in the news.
The NCAA announced that Penn State’s punishments for the Sandusky scandal are being ended early. Penn State will be allowed to participate in the postseason again and its full complement of scholarships will be restored. Needless to say, this decision has angered nearly everyone not affiliated with Penn State. To me, this seems like just the latest example of the NCAA going easy on one of its flagship programs. It’s being reported that thousands of students gathered to celebrate and called for the NCAA to overturn even symbolic punishments like wiping wins off the record books, showing that many people have learned nothing from the scandal. While current athletes and students had nothing to do with the scandal, the Sandusky case should be a textbook case of lack of institutional control. University officials and even major state political figures acted to protect the program for years, leading to a much bigger problem than there would have been had everything been properly reported and investigated when was first discovered. I actually would have liked to see the NCAA implement the “death penalty” against Penn State, but they’ve been afraid to do that to anyone for decades.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new story on the ongoing mess at UNC Chapel Hill involving fake classes, possibly illiterate athletes, and a cover-up by university officials blaming the academic part of the school for what is clearly an athletics problem. Unfortunately, the story is behind the CHE’s paywall so you’ll have to get to a library or campus network with a subscription to access it.
In related news to the recent approval of more autonomy for the major conferences, a federal judge also announced this past week that the NCAA cannot restrict colleges from offering certain types of compensation, such as a trust holding some percentage of licensing revenue (though it can cap the amount).
This will further erode the competitiveness of Division I since there are vast disparities in resources and popularity between different schools. It is good that the NCAA can impose a cap, since allowing compensation for things like licensing would heavily favor schools in larger states/markets or states with fewer schools. Unlike professional sports, there rules governing which schools get in which division are not that strict. Some major markets (i.e. New York/Boston) have only one or two teams while some small markets (e.g. Raleigh-Durham) can have a number of teams which might dilute the financial resources of any individual school.
This seems like a natural consequence of running athletics like a for-profit business. As I stated before, I would like to see the money taken out of college athletics and for athletics to take a less prominent place in college life. So, I fall into the “reform” camp rather than the “market” camp of Andy Schwarz’s terminology. However, I do think that it’s wrong for colleges to be licensing actual players names and likenesses. This is especially problematic when athletes are specifically outlawed from making any money from their own name. There have been a few cases where athletes with other interests, such as music, could risk their eligibility by performing. Under the current rules, everyone except the players can make money off the players’ names.
Obviously, I’m not a lawyer so I can’t comment on the actual legal effects of the ruling. However, it seems to me like this decision could be either good or bad for the NCAA depending on how the schools respond. It might finally force schools to make a choice between profit and the student-athlete ideal. While I think many schools (the SEC) will choose profit, others (perennial losers as well as top schools like Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Rice, Notre Dame, etc) may start to de-emphasize athletics since switching to an outwardly for-profit athletics model may be highly unpopular with students and alumni. It will be difficult for many schools to justify paying more money to athletes when athletics are heavily funded by tuition and fees even at many fairly successful schools. Students won’t want to see tuition rise year after year so that some football players can be coddled even more than they already are.