Seth Emerson commentary: NCAA can’t find middle ground

semerson@macon.comApril 14, 2014 

NCAA Mark Emmert Final Four Basketball

TONY GUTIERREZ/ASSOCIATED PRESSNCAA president Mark Emmert, left, is at the center of a conflict regarding the financial well-being of student-athletes.


NCAA struggling to find consensus on student-athlete expenses

The dastardly opportunists advocating for college athletes claim there is inequity in the system, that athletes deserve a piece of the gigantic pie -- and plenty more rights to go along with it.

And they’re right.

But if all that happens, the NCAA and member schools claim, it could jeopardize all that is right with college sports, and besides, these players are compensated by receiving scholarships.

And they’re right, too.

And therein lies the conundrum that college sports finds itself in. But far from an unsolvable conundrum.

If the NCAA had leaders with more vision and grounding in the real world, this could be solved without more lawsuits and overwrought editorials.

Unfortunately, the NCAA is headed by Mark Emmert, a nice man with no vision and less public relations sense, and college presidents, who largely fit the stereotype of pointy-headed intellectuals.

So players revolt, propped up by opportunity-seeking lawyers. Because, to be fair, there is great opportunity here.

And the media and many fans side with them because, well, you can’t side with the NCAA, right?

And the NCAA and its member school flail away at critics, when what is truly needed is visionary leadership.

There has been too much attention paid to the money aspect of this, where there is, believe it or not, actual agreement between players and the NCAA. Every player I’ve talked to would be satisfied with getting enough money to cover their bills and occasionally, as Georgia All-SEC linebacker Ramik Wilson put it, “treat themselves to some steak.”

Most administrators, even Emmert, also favor a cost-of-attendance stipend for athletes. The only hold-up is the smaller schools, which say they can’t afford it, and thus out-vote the richer schools.

If the NCAA truly had -- broken-record alert -- a visionary leader -- and a better governing structure, some accommodation could be made to make everyone happy.

The real problem in all of this isn’t money. It’s rights.

Time after time, the NCAA has created the impression it really doesn’t care about the athlete and that it makes things up as it goes along. I could list the many examples of this, but this is a column, not a novel.

In the pursuit of the amateur ideal, the NCAA too often can’t see the forest through the trees. It creates rules for specific situations, rules that often undercut the welfare of student-athletes.

Some problems are messy. It isn’t right that coaches can move from job to job with impunity, while players have to sit out a year after transferring. But there are also reasonable, competitive reasons for the rule.

The potential solution: You get one transfer without sitting out. Every time after that, you have to sit the next year.

But there is no reason that the NCAA shouldn’t have insurance protections for athletes who get injured in the line of duty or money to fly in family for events.

If you look at the list of “demands” by the nascent player’s union, none of them are really unreasonable: Coverage for sports-related medical expenses, due process before a coach strips a player of his or her scholarship, a trust fund to help former players come back and graduate. You know, really outlandish stuff.

There’s also no reason, other than greed on the NCAA’s part, that profits from jersey sales and such could easily go to a fund that athletes could partake of after their playing careers.

Are players employees? Should they unionize? That shouldn’t even be the issue.

The problem is that thanks to the intransigence of the NCAA, the players feel they have to fight back with a sledgehammer of unionization. They may very well win, thanks to the fact that any reasonable person can see they are indeed treated like employees.

Ultimately what’s needed here isn’t unionization, nor even the end of the amateur model. What’s needed is common sense and vision.

Is that too much to ask?

In today’s world of college athletics, apparently it is.

Contact Seth Emerson at

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