Should the NCAA become involved when a student-athlete commits an act of violence or otherwise engages in illegal activity away from the playing field?
Some cases seem to scream for a sanction from a national authority, for a statement that violent behavior will not be tolerated and that individuals who act irresponsibly will be punished.But NCAA involvement is inappropriate in this area because the situation does not relate to the mission of the Association. NCAA regulations exist primarily for three reasons. The first is to assure that competition takes place in an educational environment. For that reason, the NCAA has meaningful academic standards both for incoming student-athletes and for those who are already enrolled.
A second principal mission is to assure competitive equity. The association has a substantial body of legislation on such topics as amateurism, extra benefits, recruiting and financial aid. These rules were created to establish an environment in which institutions and individuals may know that they are competing against one another with a common understanding of what is permissible.
A third standard relates to ensuring the integrity of competition. The association's most visible actions in this area have related to battling the proliferation of sports wagering, but the mission extends beyond that issue.
Does the NCAA care if athletes or other individuals involved in intercollegiate athletics act violently? Of course, it does.
In recent years, the association has moved to severely punish those who come to blows on the field of play.
At some point, however, it must be acknowledged that the NCAA's authority ends and that institutional responsibility begins.
Problems with athlete violence are real, although it is probably fair to say that public perception of the frequency of incidents is distorted by the celebrity of those who are involved. But does the fact that the problems exist and that the NCAA is a regulatory authority add up to the conclusion that the NCAA should regulate in this area?
No, it does not.
Institutions do not automatically cede all power to the NCAA in all areas relating to athletics. Witness how, despite considerable public pressure to the contrary, no NCAA football championship playoff exists in Division I-A. In another instance, segments of the associa- tion's own membership took the NCAA to court - and won - over the question of who owned the rights to college football television.
Instead, it is clear that NCAA member schools prefer to exercise autonomy in certain areas. Cynics would say that with regard to this particular issue, that autonomy will always serve to make sure that the team has its star player suited up in time for the big game, no matter what that athlete has done in his personal life.
But the fact is that institutions frequently do act to punish irresponsible actions. Further, colleges and universities do not exist in a vacuum; they must consider what sort of image they are creating for themselves if they permit thugs to compete under their flag.