So last week was all about academics and colleges. The blog for this week is all about athletics. The NCAA needs some changes. I have seen the need for change at every level; first as an athlete, then as a high school coach, and now as a parent. Is change likely, no, but we can always hold out hope.
I have a daughter who is interested in playing a sport that's going to require her to be on a club team to make her high school team. That's crazy, right? There's a whole lot of money involved there, but it's also the place that she would have to go to be seen by colleges. It's crazy to me that we have to think about that in seventh grade. The problem is that if I don't, it's highly likely we are putting her in a place where she won't make her high school team. I have to keep up with the Jones, or my daughter may not get where she wants to be. As a parent, I feel like I have to try and help her do that, even though I may need to give them both an arm and a leg.
There has been a lot of talk about reforming the NCAA to benefit the athlete today. Just recently, California passed a law that gives athletes the ability to benefit from their likeness. That's a slippery slope. While the NCAA is a huge business, there won't be enough to go around to make that process very fair or equal. It's easy to be the Quarterback at Alabama and profit, but what if you are the Volleyball player at that same school? Those sports don't tend to be very lucrative and the group that will let you make money off of your standing as an athlete is very niche. I think there are some ways to reform that process and I include it below, but I also include 4 other things that will make a real difference.
1) Take Club Teams Out of It
I don't necessarily have a problem with club teams as a whole. I think getting extra practice is not a bad thing, but the NCAA can make one small change that lets every kid have a chance to be successful. They need to force NCAA coaches to recruit from high schools.
We want athletics to be about learning life lessons, and we have worked our selves into a place where they learn a lesson that isn't positive: obtaining your dreams is infinitely harder the less affluent you are. Club teams are ridiculously expensive, and unless it's a sport with a lot of potential money in the future, the cost is going to be incurred by the parent. The sports that have that potential money in the future (like men's basketball) have
This is especially prevalent in sports where the “sponsorship money” just isn't there. Think about where the state champions in sports like baseball, volleyball, soccer, and swimming are in your state. I can guess with almost certainty that they come from affluent urban areas, and there is a reason for that.
Those kids are playing a crazy number of games on traveling club teams, and that gap is just going to keep growing as the NCAA loosens rules on recruiting for club events. Parents will do it because they want kids to play at the level and they dream of having the crazy cost of college paid for. It's a matter of weighing your options
Do you know what sport has the smallest amount of this and the most parity? It's actually football. College coaches still have to recruit from high schools because playing that many games in a contact sport just isn't feasible. It's the sport where the gap between the have and have nots is the smallest, but the scary thing is the rise of 7 on 7 tournaments and special camps may be changing that. The NCAA can head that off by simply making coaches recruit from high schools. Maybe they can do that for every sport.
2. Spending caps
One of the scariest things that is happening to the sport today is that the financial gap between certain programs is starting to trickle up to colleges. It's always been there in high schools as the parents of affluent schools can make their programs whatever it hey want, but now it's trickling up even more to college athletics and the effects can be a little scary
Take college football as an example. There is a reason Alabama, Clemson, and others are winning. They are spending folks under the table. Their coaches have ridiculous salaries, their facilities are insane, and they have extra staff that isn't necessarily what others have across the board.
Why if the NCAA put a spending cap in place? The NBA and NFL have them and their parity could never be better. MLB doesn't and the big teams dominant. If the NCAA had spending caps it would improve parity, and it would also redirect funds to actually educating kids which makes us all better.
3. Get the shoe and apparel companies to cool it
Again, the money tap is open and it's hurting the sport. The shoe/apparel companies are in a mad rush to get every team they can to sign up, and that money means they can dictate what they want. The scary thing is it keeps trickling down to high schools.
I have seen a growing number of high schools in the past couple of years take money from shoe companies, and I honestly don't blame them. They get better deals on uniforms and apparel. It brings brand value. The problem is though, is it's continuing to add to the haves and have not mentality of society. No apparel company is going to put its name on a high school that has a poor reputation. They want a nice suburban school.
You can also see the influence they have over the major money sports. Football and Basketball both have apparel money pouring into them, they want that next major star to start with them from a young age, and they are doing anything they can to make that happen. They also know those suburban kids they are sponsoring at a suburban high school are much more likely to have the affluence that it takes to be future customers. Is that really fair?
The NCAA can curb all of that. I am not saying that they have to end it. Just curb it. Put some restrictions in place on what Universities can do with the shoe companies. Restrict how coaches recruit from their events. What they do, tends to trickle down.
4. Paying athletes (Sort of)
There are lots of conversations going on around paying college athletes, but that is an incredibly slippery slope. It's easy to say pay Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama because the university is already making a killing off of him, but how do you pay that swimmer at the same University where there is very little money coming in?
I think the key is to walk a really fine line. You need to give them the chance to make money off their likeness, but there also needs to be rules to keep outside influence out, to prevent the shady agents, friends, and keep away the other hanger ones. These are kids and the NCAA must protect them.
It means that the athletes should be able to hold a job, they should be able to get an appearance fee for going to a car dealership, and they should be able to make money off YouTube content. They should not, however, be able to just get paid for their skills. There has to be a transaction of some service. They have to do some type of work to actually get the money. Having to do something will teach them better lessons for the real world, and isn't that what the NCAA is supposed to be.
5. Improve Real-World Training
The goal with NCAA athletes should not be to get to the pros. It needs to be to get out into the real world and make a difference. Athletics teaches all kinds of lessons about life, yet the NCAA doesn't require any expansion on that.
Schools do things like teaching their players about financial, literacy, the law, and making a difference in the community individually. The NCAA can make a huge difference by just making that a requirement. They could require pieces of training that really set these kids up, and they can even go as far as making something like community service an eligibility requirement.
Getting those kids to have a huge heart to help people will make a huge difference in our world. No matter what sport they play, some people look up to them. Maybe the NCAA can help us build that type of community