NCAA fairness is a one-way street



The NCAA wants college athletics to be fair. It’s right there in its mission statement: “Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”

What that statement doesn’t tell you, however, is that when the NCAA talks about fairness, it’s concerned more with fairness between the schools – discouraging competitive advantage – and less about what’s fair for the young men and women who compete.

Take, for instance, an infortunate byproduct of its latest invention — an early signing period in football.

The implementation of the early signing period in December is not, in and of itself, a bad idea. The player doesn’t have to deal with any more questions about where he’s going. The school’s recruiters don’t have to babysit his commitment any longer and can focus on other prospects. Everyone wins, right?

Sure, in most cases. But then there’s the case of the 13 early signees at Western Illinois University. The Leathernecks – which, by the way, is one of the greatest nicknames ever – signed 13 players in the early signing period. Then, one day later, it was reported that head coach Charlie Fisher was leaving to take a job as receivers coach on Herm Edwards’ new staff at Arizona State.

If the NCAA were really concerned with fairness, every one of those 13 signees would be free to back out of their letters of intent and sign with other schools in February if they so choose. They signed not just with Western Illinois University, but with Charlie Fisher’s program. And now he’s gone before they ever got a chance to even practice for him.

As it is, if any of the players do want to leave – there have been no reports indicating as such as of yet – they will have to be granted a release from WIU, and such releases often include restrictions about which schools the player can then sign with.

But a player should sign with the school, not the coach, you say. That sounds nice in theory, but it’s not reality. Reality is that college football coaches develop strong bonds with the players they recruit. Those recruits and their parents develop a comfort level with those coaches and with the idea that those coaches are going to help guide them through the transition to the college level. Promises are made – a chance to compete, a sincere interest in the player’s future – and when the coach then turns around and leaves, those promises are broken.

Coaches changing jobs is part of the business, but when it happens right after one sits in a kid’s living room and convinces that kid to come and play for him, the kid got screwed.

That’s not the kind of fairness the NCAA is concerned with, apparently. It would have been a simple thing, when the early signing period was enacted, to include an escape clause for players who sign early in cases where the head coach — and even their  position coach or primary recruiter — leaves before national signing day in February. Simply allow those players to opt out of their NLI without penalty and reopen their recruitment.

That would stink for the school. But it would be fair for the player.

Instead, the NCAA concerns itself with small potatoes BS like Micah Parsons taking a photo with Kirk Herbstreit on the set of ESPN GameDay while on a recruiting visit to Ohio State. The Buckeyes self-reported this damnable offense and dropped their recruitment of Parsons, because while it wasn’t against the rules for Parsons to meet Herbstreit at Ohio State, it was against the rules for him to meet Herbstreit while the former OSU quarterback was working as a member of the media.

If a photo with Kirk Herbstreit is what seals the deal in recruiting a five-star defensive end, then there are a lot of other recruiters out there who aren’t doing their jobs.

So forgive me if I’m a little skeptical of the NCAA’s commitment to its stated mission. And I haven’t even gotten to the second half of that statement and the NCAA’s lack of action in the academic fraud investigation at North Carolina. Another column for another day. “Educational experience” indeed.

Categories: College football

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