Robert L. King’s recent piece in Inside Higher Ed featured some shots at the NCAA, but it is the sort of criticism that offers an opportunity for introspection.
King is the president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, and the hook for his article involved a flap earlier this year over whether Kentucky erred in counting vacated wins in celebrating 500 wins for basketball coach John Calipari. In his piece, King builds outward from Calipari’s observation that larger programs might be forced to break away from the NCAA.
King’s thesis: “The rulebook governing collegiate sports has become so complex and so minutiae-driven that every Division I program in the nation has to employ lawyers on a full-time basis to be certain they are in compliance.”
After making his case on the Calipari incident, the circumstances surrounding former Ohio State football player Maurice Clarett and a seemingly minor extra benefit from a basketball coach, King concluded: “This is not a call for the end of the NCAA. But I do argue that the NCAA needs to rethink its current rule book and redraft a set of rules that focus on what actually matters: honest competition, the prohibition of performance-enhancing substances, fair recruiting practices, and competent and safe treatment of student athletes. All the rest deserves to be trashed.”
However harsh King’s article may be, the standards he cites in his walkaway are constructive. The trick, of course, is found in identifying – and then controlling − the details of what is honest, fair, competent and safe. The current rulebook is a monument to the complexity of that task.
For what it’s worth, King’s goals are largely reflected in the NCAA’s core purpose, which says (among other things) that the Association “is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner…”
To the degree that things are broken, there’s a good opportunity to make right at next week’s Division I Presidential Retreat. NCAA President Mark Emmert has not minimized the task at hand.
“We have reached a point where incremental change is not sufficient to meet these challenges,” he said. “I want us to act more aggressively and in a more comprehensive way than we have in the past. A few new tweaks of the rules won’t get the job done.”
Stay tuned for an interesting week.