This isn't about the good guys and the bad guys anymore. There always will be good guys and bad guys.
This is about common sense, the kind of sense that is sometimes hard to find among the most educated and entitled.
The NCAA has lost the faith of the American sporting public. And while that loss of trust is years old, the efforts of the past couple of years, efforts cloaked in words like "sweeping" and "reform," are relatively new.
Those efforts are not working. It seems as if the more aggressively NCAA President Mark Emmert tries to draw the line between the good guys and the bad guys, the more blurry that line becomes. And now with the NCAA's embarrassing admission of improper conduct by former members of its enforcement program during the Miami investigation, we now have evidence of good guys acting like bad guys. And that really sucks.
How the attention from one of the craziest pay-for-play scandals in history could turn from a jailbird rat like Nevin Shapiro to the bumbling actions of NCAA enforcers is as humiliating as it is mind-blowing. It turns out that the attorney for Shapiro, the imprisoned mastermind of a $930 million Ponzi scheme, was paid by the NCAA to improperly obtain information in bankruptcy proceedings.
Yes, Mark Emmert is caught in a cross-fire Hurricane.
And, no, this will not end with yet another Jacobian rant about the incompetence of college athletics' governing body. Enough with the snark …
Miami is the tipping point.
It is high time for a change in the way the NCAA views athletics and, accordingly, time for the NCAA to make changes that reflect a new course.
Men like Jay Bilas at ESPN, Dan Wetzel at Yahoo! and Andy Staples at Sports Illustrated have for years been correct in their general views, correct in spirit. I suspect those who offer spirited disagreements over the details of their arguments know this. Deep down, I even suspect those who try so hard to convince themselves that "amateurism" is something nobler than an anachronism of spoiled 19th-century English nobles know this.
Is a full scholarship to cover the cost of a college education an enormous gift? As a parent who is paying for one and soon to pay for another, let me say, ABSOLUTELY! Yet that argument can no longer be made in a vacuum, and to keep making it in one is disingenuous and impractical.
When the NCAA cannot effectively, uniformly, judiciously enforce its sweeping reforms, it is time to take great pause. Couple that fact with the NCAA allowing its institutions to accept growing billions of dollars in the name of football and basketball yet dragging its feet in allowing those performing in those sports to share in the gold mine … well, color me as finally having seen enough.
I refused to vote for Cam Newton for the Heisman Trophy because, in my heart, I know his family shamelessly marketed his talents. Yet I could only shake my head in disbelief as the NCAA found his father without guilt only to close that loophole after the fact.
The NCAA swings one way. The NCAA swings the other way. And in its zeal, the NCAA is coming off more and more like the rogue bully. There are a bunch of such cases: Shabazz Muhammad, Todd McNair, etc. Yet no action stands starker than Emmert's overstepping the NCAA rule book with Penn State. It was why I wrote last July that NCAA justice in that case was conveniently swift, unprecedented and not all together blind to public relations. As horrible as what Jerry Sandusky did and how badly Joe Paterno and his school reacted, I was still haunted by what the ruling could mean in the future. I am not surprised by a lawsuit led by Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Corbett that the NCAA exceeded its authority and "piled on" with a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine.
We want to believe in the NCAA because we want to believe in good. It's that simple, really. As long as those who take extra cash or violate a recruiting rule are painted as evil, we can afford morally to back the NCAA — even to extremes. I plead guilty on some past counts there. If you fix a grade, you're a cheater. That part is easy and non-negotiable. But there has been ticky-tack stuff that has been made to sound worse than it was. By this point, we should be wiser than some of these overplayed NCAA "scare" stories. And if we were to assign the same culpability to the NCAA in the Miami case as the NCAA does to some schools, well, the NCAA is coming off as a Bozo, lacking institutional control.
Shapiro claims that he gave away millions in cash, hookers, parties on yachts, jewelry, etc., to at least 70 players. The case pulls in coaches, administrators and has been investigated for two years. Yet the NCAA would be so sloppy to potentially blow the whole thing by illegally gaining evidence? As Stewart Mandel wrote for Sports Illustrated, if this were a criminal case, the judge would immediately declare a mistrial.
Still, I refuse to get bogged down in the minutiae of the Shapiro garbage. I'm sorry. I stop right there. Rather, I join the voices calling that it is high time for the NCAA to drop the sham of "amateurism," a remnant of Victorian England that even the Olympics saw fit to drop many years ago.
Unlike some, I do not claim to have all the details. There are those who would throw open the game to anybody who wants to give money to college athletes. You cannot have athletes fraternizing with gamblers and known criminals. There has to be some rule of law. Yet there is a process in place already that works fine.
The Olympics doesn't pay athletes, but Olympians are allowed to be paid. If any athlete can strike an endorsement deal, let him or her. Some kind of sponsorship? Fine. If an athlete wants to take a loan based on future sports earnings, let him or her. It's ridiculous, really, when you think about how a college athlete can now be allowed to be paid to play pro baseball and still be eligible to play college basketball yet that same athlete would be barred for taking a penny for his basketball.
At any rate, the class-action lawsuit led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon over the NCAA's profiting off athletes' likenesses without compensating them continues. I don't expect the NCAA to win that one. Change is coming. And it should be coming faster than it is.
None of this means that many of the past NCAA lawbreakers are suddenly innocents. Hardly. Some of them are scum. Good guys chasing and catching bad guys is still a good thing. What I'm saying is the system doesn't work. It's time for a new system.
On Wednesday, Emmert announced that the NCAA has hired an outside firm to review the Miami screw-up.
What he really needs is an outside firm to decide how college sports should start looking more and more like the Olympic model.
For me, Miami is finally the tipping point.