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NCAA Leadership Gets It Wrong—Again

Tom Woodward via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The last nine months or so have been marked with upheaval and a search for what’s familiar and what’s continual. 

Well, in these troubling times, isn’t it good to know that you can always rely on one institution to do the wrong thing when the proper action is called for? 

Indeed, the NCAA, college athletics’ governing body, can always be counted to zig when the moment demands a zag or the opposite.

This was the week where two key panels representing the highest levels of the NCAA were going to take important steps toward granting athletes the abilities to move more freely and to make money off being athletes.

Instead, NCAA President Mark Emmert signaled he supported a delay in votes from the Division I Council and the Division I Board of Directors.

Emmert’s cold feet came after he received a letter from an official in the federal Justice Department warning there might be problems with the NCAA’s proposals to change eligibility and transfer rules.

Since its creation in 1906, the NCAA has held on to the quaint notion that the cost of a college education alone should be enough for athletes, that to grant them more would be tantamount to making them guns for hire. 

In addition, the organization has also allowed its member schools to place a stranglehold on the ability of these athletes to transfer to other schools.

In most cases, the school where an athlete started has approval over where and even if a young person can transfer.

The NCAA is fond of defining athletes as students, but treats them in a way that no school would ever deal with a student.

A trumpet player on scholarship in the marching band, for instance, would have full ability to play in a jazz band and make money in addition to the scholarship. 

The same trumpeter could freely leave one university band for another without permission or consequence, which is how it should be.

As six state legislatures have moved to allow athletes to profit off their names, images and likenesses, the NCAA has steadily tried to halt or slow those changes as well as encouraged the federal government to give it more control over the process.

That’s where Makan Delrahim comes in. Delrahim, who heads the Justice Department’s antitrust division, sent a letter to Emmert last week, expressing concerns with the NCAA’s obfuscation.

In the letter, Delrahim wrote “Ultimately, the antitrust laws demand that college athletes, like everyone else in our free market economy, benefit appropriately from competition."

Granted, Delrahim, whose tenure will end January 20, may not be around to ride herd over the NCAA, but there appears to be a decent chance that the new Justice Department, led by Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland, will be just as disappointed in the NCAA’s approach as the current one.

Even during a period where up is down and vice versa and we crave consistency, it’s way past time for the NCAA to do something different. 

And that’s how I see it for this week.  

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