I know my focus on the threats facing the NCAA’s amateurism standard is a sore spot with some of you. I do it because, like it or not, those threats have the potential to change college football as much as, say, conference realignment has. Both are driven by the same engine of commercialism that is engulfing college athletics.
Don’t take my word for that. Take it from the former commissioner of the Big 12 Conference.
He said realignment increased students’ desires to get their share of the money generated by football and men’s basketball. He noted programs like women’s volleyball and softball in the Big 12 now fly to games and stay in first-class hotels with the bills paid by the revenue generated from football and men’s basketball.
In a capitalistic world, kids aren’t any less motivated by financial considerations than adults are. And that’s not simply meant in the purest sense of “I want some of what you’re getting”. It’s also meant in the sense that it becomes harder and harder to swallow amateurism as a defense to practical demands for changes.
That’s why the NCAA suddenly announced it’s getting the hell out of the food service business. That may sound like a minor tactical retreat, but this is the NCAA we’re talking about, the same organization that until recently prohibited schools from letting players schmear a little cream cheese on their bagels. No retreats are minor.
That’s why Mike Slive is bleating.
“We also have to accept the fact that college sports are evolving,” Slive said. “We are in an evolutionary mode.”
Translation: the players are winning.
The thing Conley needs to realize is that the players got what they wanted and Napier got the attention he did for the same reason – the heat that’s coming down on the NCAA and the schools from the NLRB ruling and the antitrust suits. The public may not be thrilled with a college players’ union or Johnny Football getting paid, but it’s not so blind to miss some of the obvious indefensible positions being taken in the name of amateurism. And that’s having an effect. Tell me where you would have heard talk like this from college administrators ten years ago:
Barnhart pointed to the Olympic model.
He said the organization changed from purely amateur athletes to today’s system where many, but not all, Olympians earn money without turning off fans.
The thing is, we’re in the low-hanging fruit part of the contest. There are plenty of easy decisions to make about things other than how a school can feed its student-athletes. That the NCAA membership is struggling even with those isn’t a good sign. Change is coming and if the suits don’t come up with a satisfactory course of action soon, a quote like this a couple of years from now is going to sound much more dire:
“We’d be in a better place,” Beebe said, “and if it happened a couple years ago it could’ve held off some of these outside pressures.”