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Regulation Time

October 9, 2002 Columns No Comments

Regulation Time

A Season Eye View into the NCAA

by Don Weinstein

Many college basketball aficionados feel the NCAA is overly restrictive, nitpicky in their vigilant investigations, and punitive in their penalization. One of the many complaints holds that basketball players aren’t allowed to work while they toil as a higher education student, and participate in a demanding sport, which only makes their university rich. Another common opinion is held that petty infractions turn into season-ending ‘sentences’ for universities and their sports followers.

All sorts of compassion is heaped on the poor student or college program at the expense of the NCAA playing the unenvious role of Goliath. Sure the athlete and the (to quote Eve Arden in Grease) athletic supporters have a beef. However, does anyone have any idea how tough the NCAA has it? Is there no sympathy for this seemingly huge mega-money-making behemoth? My goal this season is to educate you my dear Hoopville readers on the function of the NCAA, its purpose, its performance and its challenges. As is predicable, I will shade the commentary on things hoopness-related. I will offer a brief history of the NCAA in this particular column, and in future ones, highlight some of the historic and current day enforcement matters. Who can forget the fabulous point shaving scandals and recruiting violation soirees? I’ll tell you who – EVERYONE. That’s why I want to go to the archives and yank the story out of the graves for you. They say history repeats itself, and that is exactly what is going to happen in this column.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a voluntary (key word), not-for-profit organization based in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s genesis was in 1905 when President Roosevelt called a conference among the presidents of Harvard, Yale and Princeton to discuss the unruly violence in the collegiate game of football. At that time, and due to the “Flying Wedge” formation, football claimed 18 men’s lives and resulted in 149 serious injuries. Besides new rules to mitigate the violent trend and save the game, the meetings formed alliances and future regular meetings to ‘institutionalize’ the rules of all collegiate sports. Basketball was one of those sports and the NCAA tournament was authorized in 1939 to duplicate the success of the NIT held annually in New York. The NCAA commissioned 3 big school coaches to put the 8 team tournament format together, and it was a huge success with Oregon winning the first championship over Ohio State. The 3 founding coaches predicted that the NCAA would become the greatest championship in College Sports in the future; it turns out they were right.

After World War II, the NCAA, and collegiate basketball faced one of its greatest challenges: how to react to widespread abuses in gambling and recruiting. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the greater New York City area was the center of organized basketball. And, as we all know from watching the Sopranos, it was also a major center for organized crime. Apparently the two major segments – college basketball players and mob figures – found each other leading to a large point shaving scandal that changed the face of tournament college basketball in NY almost indefinitely. As much of the fixing was attributed to the NIT tournament, a ruling came down mandating that all conference winners could only consider entrance into the NCAA tournament. Interestingly, and to emphasize the appearance of independence, the NCAA did not hold a tournament round in New York for almost 4 decades. Coincidentally – I think not – the NCAA changed its course in 1952 and became an enforcement body in addition to an organization setting standards.

Under the strong leadership of Walter Byers (NCAA president 1954-87), basketball increased importance in the pop culture by negotiating large television contracts and encouraging the integration of minorities and women. In 1980, one of Mr. Byers best coups was retaining the rights to women’s’ college basketball from the AIAW, who was an organization that lobbied hard for the infamous 1972 Title IX provision of the constitution.

The NCAA since then gained more and more power and influence over collegiate basketball as the sport’s popularity grew. You could argue that many of the rules changes that the NCAA imposed were important in the transformation of the game to it’s current entertaining level. Let’s see, there’s the Mikan rule, the 12-foot foul lane, the 35-second clock, the 3-point play, the removal of the jump ball, and the list goes on like a bad congressional record.

The NCAA has been extremely successful in negotiating the March tournament contract with the television networks, and I suppose they have to, since it is by far their most dominant source of funding. Their outlays are primarily revenue-shares with participating Division I, II and III schools and expenditures also go for college athletics insurance and the organization’s overhead. At the end of the day, they have zero dollars to show for it, and the schools, participating student-athletes and student-followers are ones who get the largesse, mostly in education and experience.

Today, the NCAA has 320 employees, serving almost 1200 universities, conferences and affiliated organizations. Their Executive Committee oversees the work involved in: enacting and interpreting legislation, providing financial assistance to those promoting collegiate athletics, promoting championship events, compiling intercollegiate statistics, writing and interpreting playing rules, solving academic-athletic problems, producing television programs, administering insurance programs, and of course, the most famous one, maintaining compliance/enforcement services.

Now then, the NCAA doesn’t seem so bad after all, huh? No one can dispute the NCAA’s noble purpose of protecting the integrity of intercollegiate athletics. Sure there are times when they are petty and unfairly punitive, and we will study those ‘rare’ cases. However, as an intercollegiate sports consumer, I believe there is a boatload of integrity in college sports, and I think the NCAA is overwhelmingly responsible.


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