NCAA needs to remedy disconnect between athletes and schools 

Just as Japan’s tragic tsunami and earthquake changed the world view on nuclear power, the recent avalanche of college sports scandals has awakened the NCAA.

The ever-growing number of major university football and basketball programs under fire has finally prompted NCAA president Mark Emmert to call a summit in August for 50 Division I school presidents declaring, “We are at a crossroads.” Which brings to mind that old line: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Or in this case, admit that the burgeoning college sports industry cannot continue to operate under its current rules where everyone but the players who bring fans to the stands and coffers shares the bounty.

Here are some potential remedies: Establish a trust fund for athletes whose teams qualify for lucrative bowl games or postseason tournaments. If Fiesta Bowl officials can make hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizing a nationally televised game with participating universities and conferences earning millions, why shouldn’t a percentage of the proceeds go to the players after they leave school? Restore mandatory four-year scholarships.

The current one-year-at-a-time scholarship rule gives coaches too much discretionary power and undermines player loyalty.

Permit student-athletes to transfer to another school without waiting a year to play again. Coaches shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to leave for a better opportunity with impunity.

Loosen restrictions on players’ job opportunities. Even athletes on a “free ride” need extra spending money. A 2009 National College Player Association study analyzing the “cost of attendance” outlay estimated the average athlete has almost $2,800 per year in expenses not covered by scholarships. Coaches shouldn’t be digging into their own pockets to pay players $300 a game as Steve Spurrier recently offered to do, but the NCAA has to ease the hardship rules to reduce the influence of boosters, agents and their runners who lurk around every corner with
ready cash.

Further exacerbating the disconnect between athletes playing for huge revenue-generating college teams and the powerful alliance of the NCAA, TV networks and corporate sponsors is the fact that the vast majority of star players are African-American, many of whom come from financially strapped families.

The average annual salary of the top 30 major college football coaches is $2.7 million. The Pac-12’s new football and basketball television deal with Fox and ESPN is worth $3 billion over the next 12 years. Players see their jerseys selling for $80 at campus stores, and understandably wonder why everybody gets a piece of the action but them.

The NCAA must also simplify its compliance rules, beef up enforcement efforts and stiffen penalties for major violators. Nothing will ever completely stop the incorrigible offenders, but leveling the playing field will go a long way in reducing their influence. It would be nice to think you won’t have to cheat to compete.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at

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