College football is broken, and the NCAA can't fix it

By Tracee Hamilton
Friday, November 26, 2010; 12:48 AM

College football players should be paid.

Even writing that makes me feel ill, but after half a century of believing that the system can be fixed, I've crossed over to the dark side. Like a broken VCR, the system isn't even worth fixing. What's the use in trying to keep the athletes themselves pure as the driven snow when the conferences, the bowls, the boosters, the schools, even the parents are all so dirty?

What's more, the only authority remotely in position to fix the current situation seems to want nothing to do with governing the sport. Division I-A football is the one sport for which the NCAA isn't interested in conducting a championship, yet it seems to find the time to make sure not one red cent makes its way into the pockets of the players, who are doing the work and taking the risks. Scholarships are no longer enough when everyone else in the system is getting paid. It's time to give them a stipend of some kind.

I say this despite, not because of, Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy front-runner Cam Newton, whose unbeaten team faces Alabama on Friday in the 75th Iron Bowl. Newton is the subject of federal, state and NCAA investigations into whether his father asked Mississippi State for $200,000 last season in order to steer his son to school there, a charge the family has denied.

Whether or not the charges against the Newtons are true, there is plenty of evidence that these types of demands are commonplace and that those we hear about are merely the most egregious payments to the highest-profile athletes. Which is why I abhor changing the rules to satisfy the lowest common denominator. To me, it feels like raising the speed limit in a school zone because no one wants to slow down.

But clearly this system is broken, and clearly the wrong people are benefitting from it. Let's look back over the past five months in college football.

Southern Cal was stripped of two victories from the 2004 season, and all its 2005 wins as well as its national title, because of improper payments from an agent to Reggie Bush's family. The school set about erasing Bush from the record books, murals and trophy cases, and the running backs coach who knew about the financial arrangement was banned from recruiting off-campus for one year.

That'll show 'em!

Pete Carroll went skipping off to the Seattle Seahawks for $33 million. The Bush family hasn't suffered - in fact, they've been living the high life, apparently. Bush gave back his Heisman.

So who really paid for these transgressions? All those players who helped win the national title with Bush and left school with no NFL money and no Heisman Trophy, just a ring and some bragging rights, and whose parents didn't reap the rewards of their talent. They all paid. And the players who would have gotten those 30 scholarships USC was forced to forfeit? They paid, too.

And that's the best the NCAA can do. It's not that the organization doesn't have good intentions, but it's got too much ground to cover and no teeth. It hopes by smacking around the institutions, the institutions will in turn enforce the rules. In actuality, that's not happening. So players and coaches walk away from these messes, tainting entire programs in their wake, with no consequences except for a bunch of innocent kids and the schools and conferences that employ full-time compliance officers and are still surprised by what goes on.

The NCAA seems to want the conferences to control the top level of college football, and the conferences are obliging. This summer's spate of realignment saw schools playing musical chairs to a medley of Big Ten fight songs. A conference whose schools have long preached tradition and loyalty and played for things such as the Old Oaken Bucket wreaked havoc on a large swath of the country, ruining those traditions and bringing an end to some of the longest rivalries in existence, all for the sake of television money. So clearly, loyalty and tradition no longer matter. Money matters. Message received.

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