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Editorial: NCAA Championship troubles

By Shaymus McLaughlin
On April 11, 2011

Well, after a month of elimination basketball, we've got our NCAA champion: The University of Connecticut Huskies, who averaged 72.4 points per game this year and were led by the electric Kemba Walker. Their head coach, Jim Calhoun, won his third national championship, the fifth coach to achieve that milestone.

He will also be sitting out the first three games of the Big East conference schedule next season for recruiting violations. The NCAA found eight infractions stemming from a 2008 report by Yahoo! Sports. The school also was placed on probation for three years and will lose athletic scholarships for the same period of time.

And as many of us know, this is not uncommon for NCAA teams.

The Ohio State Buckeyes football team is dealing with its own scandal, as five players were suspended by the NCAA for the first five games of the 2011 season after the players allegedly sold NCAA memorabilia in exchange for tattoos. Then we have the Cam Newtons, the player whose talents were allegedly shopped around to the highest bidder; or the Reggie Bush types, who received improper benefits for himself and his family. 

So how do you stop it from happening? You can't because money talks.

One of the discussions that made its way to the forefront is compensation. The topic has been such a conversation magnet recently that PBS' "Frontline" ran a full 25-minute story about the issue on March 29, as March Madness was entering its stretch run.

For how much of a time commitment college athletics is, and how much money the NCAA makes off of the student-athletes, compensation is justified at this point. Those against it argue it would shatter the image of amateurism. People would begin playing for the money, rather than because they simply love the game.

That has a simple solution. Make the compensation the same for every athlete. That way, there's no incentive to perform your best other than love of the game, since the money isn't rising with your play.

But more importantly, even if the players were to be compensated, most of these same violations—big and small—would still go on. There is too much money at stake for things to change.

The television deal for March Madness is for a reported $700 million per year, and conferences receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for each game in the tournament that a member plays in. For the Bowl Championship Series of college football, ESPN is paying a reported $125 million per year. And when a team makes it to a bowl game, their conference is paid out anywhere from $300,000 to $17 million.

There is quite a lot of money at stake, but to get there, you have to have the best players. So even if a university were required to give student-athletes a stipend of $100 each month (a purely hypothetical number), the playing field is even across the board. Every school can offer the player the same amount of money, so each team should all have the same chance at successfully recruiting the player. Just like they do now, theoretically.

But with potentially millions of dollars up for grabs from the postseason—not even taking into account merchandise and ticket sales, conference television deals and other revenue sources—people will fall back into their old habits. They will provide the recruits with unreported compensation, catapulting themselves ahead of other schools as the frontrunner for the athlete's services.

This isn't the fault of the players for taking the money or gifts. If you grew up in a household making $30,000 a year and parents working two jobs, would you say no to help, even if it was technically against the rules? Of course not. Your family's well-being certainly seems more important at the time.

It might not even be the fault of the coaches or universities that commit the violations. They are part of a system that essentially rewards breaking the rules. It's simply the culture of college athletics at this point.

So get used to it, because it isn't going away anytime soon. Not with this much money on the table.

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