l Three: Make freshmen ineligible. By passing this rule the NCAA would declare that it puts education ahead of business, and is not just pursuing the NFL and NBA cultures. It would restore the right academic priority, and serve as a disincentive in illegal recruiting and high school transcript frauds. Also, the number of hours devoted to practice, weights, film, etc. should be lowered.
l Four: Reduce the regular season from 12 games to 10 games. It’s in the best interest of the players physically and academically, it will help downsize the sport to more manageable cost levels, and it will make a playoff feasible, without overextending the top teams.
The fiscal crack addicts who’ve run up deficits in athletic departments will claim they need the revenue of those extra games. Don’t believe them — that’s a plea of bad athletic directors who can’t manage money. According to the Knight Commission, since the 12th football game was added in the 2006 season, “only one additional football program has generated positive net revenue.”
l Five: Abolish the Bowl Championship Series. It’s an unprincipled and unfair system that brings out the worst in those who compete in it. It sends the message to athletes that what counts is not the game, “but how you game the system,” says Alan Fishel, an attorney from Arent Fox who represents Boise State.
College football is the only sport that does not have a valid championship, because conference commissioners seized control of the postseason in order to hoard the bowl money to offset their deficits. The NCAA needs to reclaims its authority. “It’s beginning to taint everything, in all of athletics,” Cowen says. “That particular system has co-opted all of intercollegiate athletics, and really led the train in the wrong direction.”
l Six: Toughen punishments on players who accept money, and agents who offer it to them. Let’s all quit apologizing for the poor athlete. Deterrence works. “We can’t keep placing the blame on the NCAA and saying life’s unfair,” Southern Cal Athletic Director Pat Haden says. “The student athletes have to do the right thing, and they know what’s right in these circumstances.”
Haden has the unenviable job of trying to rebuild a “culture of compliance” after the Reggie Bush scandal. But why should Haden carry the burden for the fact that Bush accepted $290,000 from an agent, an act that stigmatized the university and could cost it millions? “We’re the poster child, if you will,” Haden says ruefully.
The NCAA should throw its lobbying weight behind a national law to send rogue agents to jail, and it should explore means to force players who take cash benefits against NCAA rules to repay their scholarships, and serve NFL suspensions. If steroids lead to a ban, why shouldn’t this? In the meantime, USC should sue Bush for damages. “If you want to stop what’s going on, suggest that Reggie Bush write a check to the school for what he cost them,” said an attorney who didn’t wish to be named. “Rather than saying, ‘There’s cheating and we can’t do anything about it.’ When Bush does what he does, he has to take a hit of some kind.”
All of these proposed reforms have one thing in common. They need strong-minded administrators willing to enact them. So far, the NCAA has been too willing to accept individual helplessness and collective failure.