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Will NCAA Transformation Committee be able to cure what ails college sports?

Committee is exploring the many issues that are vexing college athletics. These days, that’s a lot to bite off

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Signage at the headquarters of the NCAA is viewed in Indianapolis, March 12, 2020.

Signage at the headquarters of the NCAA is viewed in Indianapolis, March 12, 2020.

Michael Conroy, Associated Press

Given the state of college football (it’s a steaming hot mess), you might be asking yourself this (completely understandable) question:

Why do we still need the NCAA?

What do those crusty old NCAA officials do anyway now that they can’t sanction a school for providing snacks to a hungry athlete or because an assistant coach got his picture taken with a recruit at the wrong time of year? Where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, the NCAA’s role — at least in football — has been diminished to say the least.

The NCAA does not own or operate the College Football Playoff; the playoff belongs to the 10 conferences, with the five most prestigious conferences possessing most of the power, which they wield to lord over the other half of the kingdom.

The NCAA does not sell broadcast rights; the conferences do that for themselves, creating their own deals.

The NCAA is supposed to be the central government of college sports, making decisions that are for the greater good of the game; they have abdicated that role. Nobody is in charge and conferences have taken matters into their own hands, looking out only for their own interests.

The NCAA should create sensible rules and enforce them in a clear, orderly way; football (as well as the other sports) is in a state of chaos after a blitz of drastic new rule changes that caught everyone off guard and which nobody understands completely — NIL, the transfer portal, constant disruptive conference realignments that are nothing more than hostile takeovers.

Well, those glacially slow, stubborn NCAA officials — the guys who took decades just to reinvent and adopt playoffs — finally recognized they are behind the times and decided to join the 21st century. In an act of self-preservation, they created the Transformation Committee to adapt and modernize their governance of college sports, or what’s left of it. As the NCAA itself put it, the committee’s purpose is to “represent an important and appropriate first step toward transforming Division I athletics and better supporting the sustainability of college sports.”

And to save their fannies. Can the NCAA become relevant again and restore some order in college sports?

The committee proposed a number of changes in the spring. The NCAA announced last month that the Division I council “endorsed several recommendations” made by the Transformation Committee. Those recommendations will be voted on by the board of directors this month.

Among other things, the NCAA said if the recommendations are approved, schools would be allowed to support athletes “in a variety of ways without asking for waivers, including providing support needed for a student-athlete’s personal health, safety and well-being; paying for items to support a student’s academic pursuits; purchasing insurance … and funding participation in elite-level training, tryouts and competition.”

The council also endorsed a change in the rules that prohibit athletes from transferring more than once (which sounds like they’re throwing gas on the fire instead of bringing it under control) and to restrict the use of the transfer portal to “entry windows,” or certain periods of time during the year.

There was no mention of how the council felt about other proposals that had been presented by the committee as reported by Sports Illustrated — eliminating scholarship caps on nonrevenue sports that offer only partial scholarships; removing limits on the number of coaches per team; and expanding direct payments from the school to athletes.

For decades, players, coaches and schools tried to break free of the NCAA’s often-unfair, iron-fisted hold on the game; now that they’ve got it, they’re running amok with their newly won freedom. They have taken things too far. The NCAA does not look like it is doing enough to rein things in with the current proposals, especially relating to NIL, which stands for name, image and likeness, issues.

“I think we’re in a really precarious place,” said Iowa’s longtime football coach, Kirk Ferentz, during the recent Big Ten media day. “There’s just a lot of vagueness, a lot of uncertainty. We really don’t have a firm structure. We don’t have a basic set of operating rules. I don’t think anybody right now can really explain the NIL (name, image and likeness policy) in detail, what you can and what you can’t do. I know you can’t entice recruits, but it sure seems like maybe that’s going on a little bit. There’s just a lack of overall clarity.

“ … We need some intervention, and then my bigger concern is: Who’s going to do it, right? Where’s it going to come from? Where’s that leadership going to come from …?”

Probably not the NCAA.


The Cotton Bowl logo is displayed before the Cotton Bowl Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

Michael Ainsworth, Associated Press