The recent revelations concerning the University of Miami football program show just how broken the current NCAA system is.
The allegations suggest that booster Nevin Shapiro, currently in jail for fraud, paid millions to Hurricane athletes and coaches. He allegedly paid for prostitutes, abortions, boat rides and cars. The stark reality is that much of this practice goes on every day in college sports. Enforcement is selective.
Had Reggie Bush paid off the second agent he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from, which would have prevented a public lawsuit, the USC sanctions would not have seen the light of day.
College athletes are sometimes at a disadvantage when it comes to their non-athletic peers. When I attended UCLA and Berkeley, my parents covered all expenses and gave me a weekly allowance for spending money. Athletes, some with financially challenged backgrounds, do not even have the right to work during the school year to supplement their income.
They engage in a normal academic schedule and have major time demands from preseason, their playing season and offseason conditioning programs. They look at students wearing nice clothes, driving nice cars and eating well and contrast that with their own situation.
In cities such as Los Angeles and Miami, life in the fast lane and opulence are all around them. NCAA restrictions are rigid. For example, it is a violation for a player to walk into the football office and use the phone to call their family. It is a violation for a school to help an athlete get home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. There are occasional programs that can be tapped for additional revenue for players, but not nearly enough.
I realize athletes are given the benefit of a free college education. But many of the athletes are only on campus because the NBA and NFL have prohibitions on when athletes are eligible to enter the pros.
I venerate the concept of college and wish every athlete would be motivated to graduate, but nowhere does it state that the study of the Pythagorean theorem or Art History is a legal prerequisite to cut off tackle for four yards. We force athletes to attend college who have no interest or academic qualifications to be there.
The sad truth is that for athletes who stay four or five years at many colleges, the graduation rates are abysmally low. As few as 30% graduate in some major football and basketball programs after four or five years on the campus. Let's focus on educating them before forcing a totally disinterested athlete to attend four years of college. It is those uninterested athletes who make up a heavy percentage of those violating NCAA regulations and putting schools in peril. After taking them off campus, it would be easier to monitor the true student-athletes.
By not allowing generous supplements to financially disadvantaged athletes, we are pushing them into the hands of overzealous alums and greedy agents. It would take so little money to put the student-athletes in better financial condition.
There is a difference between paying collegiate athletes and supplementing their funds. But Title IX mandates that all sports and athletes need to be treated equally. This ignores the reality of college basketball and football as the revenue-generating focus of the public. Those sports also stimulate non-athletic giving by happy alums to the college.
Athletes know when their sports are generating mass revenue for a campus. They see their jersey being sold in the student store with no royalty to the athlete. They are conscious of ticket prices and television contracts. Which is why most athletes in these sports do not see accepting money from alums and agents as a moral issue. They feel that the system exploits them and have little compunction about taking what they can get. They define the issue as survival.
It is certainly not helpful for the NCAA to have one of its enforcement heads coming out of the athletic supervision at the University of Miami. Selective enforcement and penalties are the norm. We need to change the system to one that is more realistic and constructive. Everyone wants a level playing field, but the current NCAA system is anything but that.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.