Well, the NCAA today gave everyone yet another reason to think it's a morally bankrupt institution that has it out for (INSERT FAVORITE SCHOOL'S NAME HERE).
The revelation that they had traded autographs for tattoos and sold memorabilia garnered five Ohio State Buckeyes, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, suspensions for the first five games of the 2011 season. (Somehow, their unfathomable pleas of ignorance enabled them to stay eligible for this season's Sugar Bowl.)
The outrage I've observed over the NCAA's decision has been nothing short of predictable:
- The NCAA is making up the rules as it goes along.
- This shows USC got a raw deal.
- How the hell did Cam Newton and Auburn not get burned worse?
- These guys are being suspended for getting tattoos?
There ya go. Let it all out. The NCAA can take it - that's what it was made for.
Stop and think for a minute about what the NCAA is and is not. The best comparison I can come up with is another popular target of the public's ire, the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS effectively has one purpose: collect taxes. It doesn't write the tax laws; that's Congress' job. It simply makes sure that they're carried out. Like a villain's robotic henchman, underneath it all it's more mechanism than rational actor.
The NCAA really isn't much different. At the end of the day, it is tasked with seeing to it that "student-athletes" participate as "amateurs." The question is, Why does the NCAA have that authority?
Ultimately, the NCAA exists and carries out its mission at the will of its member schools. In other words, the rules and regulations that the NCAA writes and enforces have the tacit endorsement of the schools. It may not seem that way when A.J. Green is docked four games for selling his jersey or Southern Cal gets hammered for the transgressions of a running back years after he has left campus, but that's the reality.
So, why do the schools let their attack dog run free? Not surprisingly, money drives this bizarre arrangment of at-will enslavement. So long as they're playing by the NCAA's rules, the schools can keep all the dough for themselves under the noble guise of improving the collegiate experience, conveniently ignoring the fact that they're running multi-billion dollar, for-profit enterprises.
Equally important, the schools can just as easily withdraw and create a new regulating body if the NCAA gets too big for its britches.
While fans and pundits stamp their feet and complain about the inconsistency and injustice of the mean old NCAA in these one-off cases, they overlook the fundamental truth that the Association often serves as little more than a whipping boy who takes lashings on behalf of the people who are actually getting paid in all this.
So, before you go spouting off about the seeming absurdity of NCAA decisions like the one handed down today, I'd suggest you save your breath. Such absurd outcomes can only come from an institution with an absurd purpose. Whose fault is that?