Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

The official Big Twen Position on Intercollegiate Athlete Compensation is as follows: most D-1 athletes are overpaid relative to what they would get in a truly free market, even in the revenue sports. All efforts at capping total compensation, including by preventing players from selling merchandise, are attempts to level the playing field between programs. Recent proposals to increase the amount of aid to players are no different in principal than attempts to allow players to sell swag. Any changes to the system in favor of greater compensation will likely result in greater disparity between the Big Ten and the MEAC (and I'm fine with that) and fewer athletes overall on scholarship at their schools (I'm a bit more uncomfortable with that but on the fence).

What the reaction to the Big Ten scholarship proposal made quite clear is that very small amounts of additional money ($3000/year per revenue athlete, plus Title IX costs) are enough to threaten smaller programs.  Unless we're going to go beyond "Screw the MEAC" to "Screw the Mountain West and Maybe the Big East Too," any compensation proposals will have to be limited. If we are going to say firmly grounded in the world of reality, the difference between paying the players and not paying the players is going to be a couple thousand dollars a year per athlete.

Which is why I don't believe this for a second:

Jim Tressel resigned today, after the weight of allegations against him and his program became too much to bear.  There is a Sports Illustrated piece on the way that threatens to blow apart the basics of what Tressel actually did to warrant his hasty resignation, but to date we know his players sold memorabilia and received sweetheart deals from local auto dealers, he knew of it, and not only did he do nothing to stop it but signed a piece of paper saying he had no knowledge of it.  If this were simply the tattoo story from December, we would not be here.  It was a conspiracy of one that brought down The Great Sweatervest, and it's solely and completely his fault that his career at Ohio State ended this morning.  This post is not about that. 

No, this post is about what's being done to prevent it from happening again.  Because as long as the college football system -- and, for that matter, the NCAA system in general -- continues to exploit student athletes, it will happen, and happen repeatedly.  Jim Tressel did what he did not because he wanted to gain an advantage, per se; take a look at the cars your team's players are driving and tell me auto dealers in Columbus are acting alone.  Rather, Tressel did what he did because he wanted to protect his players from breaking a rule that he and his players clearly felt was improper and insignificant. And he's right.  And it's why Jim Delany's plan to increase scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance will save us from a repeat performance.

So long as we cap total compensation, we will have to prevent players from going over that cap. Some won't want to do this, like when, for example, car dealers decide they want to contribute to the team in the best way they know how. More money is always better than less money, and a certain type of player will always select the more money option regardless of whether there are rules in place to stop him or whether he is already getting money from the school. There might be some marginal deterrence at the edges, but the players willing to wantonly violate the rules, as Terrelle Pryor and others are alleged to have done, are unlikely to be dissuaded by $10 a day. As long as there are rules, Terrelle Pryors will exist to skirt those rules.