Acting as Commissioner of a professional sports league cannot be an easy job. It requires business savvy, knowledge of the law, negotiating skills, and the ability to wade through piles of criticism while maintaining a tough, confident appearance. Most of the job responsibilities aren’t glamorous, and the hours are long. Commissioners are rarely praised and often vilified. For the most part, I think the four Commissioners, David Stern (NBA), Roger Goodell (NFL), Bud Selig (MLB), and Gary Bettman (NHL), do a pretty decent job. But every fan wonders what it would be like to be in charge. We’d all love to take the ownership reigns of our favorite team for a week, but how does one attempt to change an entire league? Well, like this for starters.
NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
The first thing I’d address as NBA Commissioner is what I like to call the “redundancy factor.” The league’s biggest problem is that 75 percent of its teams are almost irrelevant. This is a league that revolves around seven or eight franchises at the most. The conversation, the media, and the telecasts, focus on these so-called elite teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, and Magic. The rest of the league is barely worth talking about and that has to change. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has to close for the NBA to become an all-around better product, because when only a few teams have an actual shot to win a title before the season even starts, then why is the regular season interesting? Where’s the drama? Right now, we’re all just biding our time until the playoffs start. In my mind, the best way to solve this problem is contraction. I know it’s a dirty word, but it’s time. Too many small market teams (Milwaukee, Utah, Sacramento) acquire star players only to see them bolt in a couple years for one of the big cities. The teams that can hold onto stars are eventually forced to trade them away because the players have too much power (i.e. Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams). Getting rid of six teams would help bring the league back into a better competitive balance. Talent wouldn’t be spread so thin, and increased parity is the result. In other words, a more interesting, compelling NBA than what we have right now. It gives me no pleasure to do it, but I’m taking the ax to these teams:
As a sports fan, I am no longer shocked or surprised by anything. I’m guessing I’m not alone here. Athletes get arrested at an alarming rate. Rarely does a day go by without hearing of some sort of cheating, whether its performance enhancing drugs or marital infidelity. Suspensions, violations, and probations are now expected during the course of any professional or college sports season.
Manny Ramirez got busted for taking a female fertility drug. Yawn. Brett Favre allegedly sent pictures of his privates to a woman while playing with the Jets. Whatever. Ben Roethlisberger had an “encounter” with a college student in the bathroom of a bar. Double yawn. Tiger Woods led a secret life, and slept with who knows how many women in who knows how many states. I give it a shoulder shrug and a raised eyebrow. Even if Lance Armstrong, the last hope for integrity and truth in sports, is proven guilty of doping, will we really be blown away? I might bat an eyelash, but I’m not going to be floored. In fact, my initial thought will probably be something along the lines of, “that took longer than I expected.” Sad but true.
Scandal has become synonymous with sports. It’s like acne on a teenager, it’s assumed. We’re not nearly as appalled at the sports landscape as we used to be. When was the last time you really gasped at a scandal? It’s been a while hasn’t it? There’s no more surprise, no more shock, no more asking “how can this be!?” American sports fans are desensitized and apathetic toward all of it.
The latest example came this week when Josh Luchs, a former NFL agent, admitted to Sports Illustrated that he broke NCAA rules and regularly paid college football players. In his first person article, Luchs says he gave hand outs to players in hopes they would sign with him. I appreciate Luchs’ candor and the glimpse behind the scenes of what really goes on between agents and college players, but am I stunned by any of his revelations? No.
This is simply another kind of behavior that has come to be expected in the world of college athletics. At this point, if you’re like me, you’re almost completely numb to any kind of NCAA violation. Big schools cheat. Small schools cheat. Coaches have impermissible contact with recruits. Players take money. And the world turns.
Sure, there have always been schools out there breaking the rules, but today these violations are so pervasive it’s hard to find a university that doesn’t have a blemish on its record. Our alma mater may cheat, but as long as we’re winning, it’s pretty easy to look the other way.
I think I’m ready to come out of my scandal induced coma, and propose some real changes. Not because I’m angry or disappointed or betrayed, but because I’m just so sick and tired of hearing about it.
There is plenty of blame to go around here, but a good chunk of it lands right in the lap of the NCAA. It’s an archaic, poorly run bureaucracy that needs to be fixed. When I think of the leaders of the NCAA, I think of a group of old men sitting around a table in a dimly lit room. They are wearing glasses, suspenders, and bow ties, and they’re churning out new rules so quickly that their typewriters are smoking. They are so far removed from what life is actually like on a college campus. They know nothing of what a coach has to deal with or what it’s really like to be a “student-athlete.” And they don’t care.
Listen up NCAA…there are TOO MANY rules. How much time, effort, and money do you spend as an organization just investigating infractions? I’m willing to bet it’s a bunch. Why? Because you’re creating rules faster than you can enforce them.
Why not lighten up on the recruiting rules? There are hundreds of rules coaches are expected to follow, and I can’t blame them for slipping up from time to time. There is a limit to the number of phone calls and number of texts a coach can send. There are only certain times of the year when recruiting is “open.” It’s kind of like deer season. There are certain periods when the recruit can sign a letter of intent. There are rules for how a coach can recruit a high school junior and different rules for a high school senior. There are rules for when and how a recruit can take a visit to a campus, and there are rules for what can and cannot happen during that visit. Try reading the NCAA recruiting guidelines for division one football. Go ahead try it. It will make your head spin.
The NCAA could do away with most of these rules. The NCAA will tell you there must be a level playing field, and the kids have to be protected. Remember the NCAA really cares about the kids. Since when is a high school kid incapable of turning off his phone or throwing away his mail? Let coaches pursue the kids, and let the kids decide when and how they want to. Less red tape would mean fewer violations, fewer probations, and maybe coaches could get back to coaching.
Not only do these silly rules cost the NCAA money to enact and enforce, they cost the universities millions of dollars every year. Every school now has to hire a compliance staff to keep up with the ever-changing NCAA legislation. These compliance officers are paid to make sure players are eligible, see that no violations are occurring, and educate the coaching staffs to the new rules. Have these compliance staffs solved the problems? Are there fewer violations now than there used to be? No and not even close.
This isn’t to say that some rules are needed. I don’t think players should be allowed to take money from agents or have contact with agents. But it’s the agents who deserve the brunt of the punishment, not the players, and certainly not the entire program. Should the current players on the USC football team really suffer because Reggie Bush accepted benefits from an agent? It’s absurd.
The NCAA seems to think more regulations will equal cleaner programs. It’s a nice concept, but it’s wrong. There are more regulations than ever, and there’s more cheating than ever before. Everyday brings a new headline.
UConn Men’s Basketball Team Admits Major Violations, Florida Football Misuses Facebook Commits Four Minor NCAA Violations, NCAA Accuses Michigan Coach of Violations, Memphis Forced to Vacate Wins from Final Four Season, NCAA places Alabama football on Probation, Trojans Hammered for Lack of Institutional Control…
And on, and on, and on we go.
I’m not naive enough to think that cheating can be eradicated from college sports or any sport for that matter. Coaches and players will continue to come up with ways to cut corners and gain a competitive edge. Those that do should be punished. However, I’m exasperated by the callous nature of the NCAA and the complete refusal of this institution to look inward and recognize that widespread changes need to be made. I don’t think we have to be so far away from cleaning up the landscape of college athletics. I’m frustrated by the stubborn refusal of an organization to change.
I think I will remain mostly numb but I don’t want to feel this way anymore. So please NCAA, please help me change. Help me to see violations as the exception, not the norm. Help me to care, help me get rid of the cynical sports fan inside of me. That way if I am shocked, it will mean that scandal is rare instead of prevalent. I want to feel again, I want to care, I want to be the sports fan of my youth. Please NCAA, look deep into the blackness that is your soul, and try to change so I can change.
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