Why Does the NCAA Exist?

Why does an organization formed when the idea of paying money to attend a sporting event was in its infancy still operate under the same (now completely out-of-context) model?
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"The NCAA was founded in 1906 to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time," so states the National Collegiate Athletic Association on its official website.

The NCAA often likes to harp on tradition and the sanctity of the term "student-athlete," but it fails to recognize its true roots.

The association in fact got its start because, at the time of its creation, football was in danger of being abolished as a result of being deemed too dangerous a sport. During the 1905 season alone, 18 college and amateur players died during games. In response to public outcry, Theodore Roosevelt, an unabashed fan of the sport, gathered 13 football representatives at the White House for two meetings at which those in attendance agreed on reforms to improve safety. What would later become known as the NCAA was formed shortly after on the heels of this unifying safety agreement.

As this New York Times article, published January 3, 1909, indicates, the NCAA was hardly founded by a bunch of people who thought maintaining the arbitrary notion of amateurism was paramount.

Debating the topic of allowing athletes to play "Summer ball," referring to professional baseball leagues that competed during the summer, Professor Judson P. Welch of Penn State University, argued in favor.

"I believe that the man who needs money to go through college should be allowed to play Summer ball, in just the same manner as he would do anything else for a living."

W.C. Riddick of North Carolina Agricultural College agreed:

"He advised a strict enforcement of the scholarship rule and a time limit of work from five months to one year in the college. If any man could live up to this standard, let him be recognized as a student in good standing and play Summer ball for money if he desired."

Even before the NCAA became arguably one of the most controversial tax-exempt organizations in existence (the association accrued $814 million in revenue in 2011), people were able to see through the absurdity of insisting that athletes not be able earn their own money as they see fit.

And so the question arises, how did the NCAA go from being an agreement to promote safety standards so as to prevent death on the playing field, to a multi-million dollar enterprise that seems most concerned with ensuring that "student-athletes" do not receive any compensation (pardon me, "impermissible benefits") for their in-demand talents?

Why does an organization formed when the idea of paying money to attend a sporting event was in its infancy still operate under the same (now completely out-of-context) model?

In short, why does the NCAA still exist?

It can't be to police college athletics to ensure nobody violates the arbitrary rules that they've dreamt up. After all, this is an organization that at once, denied the University of Iowa's request to wear jersey's honoring the death of a teammate, while at the same time, was unable to conduct a non-corrupt investigation into allegations that a rich booster had bought University of Miami football and basketball players jewelry, prostitutes and had even paid for an abortion.

It can't be because they've created a tremendous revenue stream for all of their members. Under NCAA supervision, the majority of athletic programs in fact lose money and are subsidized by funds from their respective university.

And it surely, surely can't be to encourage academic integrity in college sports. The latest in numerous examples of academic dishonesty and/or flat-out cheating involves the University of North Carolina, where a former reading specialist with the athletic department alleges the school offered athletes credit for "no show" classes that never actually convened.

This year the NCAA will rake in more than $702 million in TV revenue from the men's basketball tournament alone, which is three and a half times as much money as it would cost to implement a work-study program for student-athletes.

Admittedly, the association is a nice guise to help athletic programs maintain tax-exempt by "furthering the educational mission of universities." I mean, just look at how shiny and educational Oregon's brand new, state of the art $68 million football operations facility is:

oregon football operations

College sports could most definitely continue to exist outside of the confines of the NCAA. There's no law stating that the governing body has to be in place for schools to compete against one another, and athletic departments are already in charge of scheduling many games.

The concern naturally is that, without the NCAA in place, schools would be welcome to pay players, which would be a disadvantage to schools that don't have profitable athletic programs. This could be solved in multiple manners, the most obvious one being: If a school can't afford to support a college sports team, they probably shouldn't have a college sports team.

The slope isn't as slippery as it's often made out to be: People will pay money to watch certain college sports, so why shouldn't the athletes who participate in these sports and drive the popularity of them get a cut?

Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel generated $37 million worth of exposure for Texas A&M last season, and NCAA officials are hard at work trying to hold him to the same outdated standards that existed when their main problem was "Summer baseball."

Many schools can afford to support a few teams, but being financially responsible for many unprofitable sports simply isn't sustainable.

The NCAA could perhaps remain as the governing body for these non-revenue generating sports such as gymnastics and lacrosse, but even if the organization ceased to exist, it wouldn't result in the end of these sports being played at the collegiate level. If there was enough interest, these sports could still have teams that compete intercollegiately at the club level, at a fraction or even no-cost to the university. In addition, these club sports teams are arguably the most pure form of inter-collegiate competition as they're populated by regular students at the university, as opposed to recruited athletes.

While there's certainly merit in offering a soccer player a partial college scholarship, there's a much more reasonable argument for that money going to a budding engineer.

If the NCAA truly wants to respect its roots, it will invest less time cracking down on sideshows like Johnny Manziel, and more time perhaps addressing the dangerous nature of football, which is the real reason the organization was created in the first place.

But that hardly seems to be a priority, as was detailed by The Big Lead:

In a survey done in 2010, almost half of the trainers surveyed said they would return an athlete to a game on the same day as suffering a concussion. The NCAA put in requirements that schools put in a concussion plan and have it on file, but this was not enforced or given any teeth. In an October 2010 email, director of enforcement Chris Strobel detailed how it would not be appropriate to suspend or penalize a coach who put an athlete back into a game, in violation of the concussion plan in place. The only punishment would be to have a secondary violation for schools that did not file the plan in the first place.

The NCAA, however, did not even enforce the filing of the concussion plans.

So, NCAA, to quote a certain cinematic classic, "What would you say, ya do here?"

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