The Changing Character of Sports

August 11, 2011

On the heels of the alleged violations at the University of Miami, and dismissal of Ohio State University Head Coach Jim Tressel for covering up the actions of several players, amongst them Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith and Terrell Pryor. It seems that more and more you don’t actually have to be a fan of college football to end up hearing about the latest scandal.Though the degree of punishment for athletes and institutions vary, they all share two common elements: Athletes are flagrantly disregarding the rules put in place by the NCAA to ensure parity in collegiate athletics and coaches faced with the prospect of suspending star players are looking the other way.

 

The question that is foremost with pundits, critics, and former players is “How do we combat this problem.” There are a number of different responses, the most popular of the last several years seems to be the notions that paying the college athletes may be the answer. I don’t know where the idea originates from; it seems to have more or less bubbled out of the muddled masses of writers and broadcasters that cover college football. This is an answer that I see as not only problematic for a number of reasons but in fact seems contradictory. The simplest explanation is; not only are these athletes already compensated with an education that other students are paying for, but an opportunity to audition for a profession that has a higher starting wage than any other vocation, the NFL. The idea that because of repeated problems and a flagrant disregard for NCAA policies the solution is to FURTHER compensate the players seems asinine and continues the culture of unaccountability amongst these athletes and coaches.

 

For an illustration of the root problem within these NCAA rule violations one can look at Terrell Pryor entering the 2011 supplemental draft. The decision that came about after the resignation of Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressell in avoidance of the 5 game suspension handed down by the NCAA. NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell, though allowing Pryor into the supplemental draft, has done so contingent that Pryor not be allowed to practice with any team that drafts him until Week 6 of the NFL season (a decision that may be appealed through the NFLPA within two days of his contract signing). Terrell Pryor will likely sign a short term, multi-million dollar contract, while Ohio State University will see lasting effects of the scandal over the course of the next half dozen years and additionally will be without the services of one of the most successful coaches in Buckeye history.

 

A more pointed example of this lack of accountability is the 2006 Reggie Bush scandal at the University of Southern California. After a lengthy NCAA investigation the program received a amongst other actions a 2 year bowl ban. According to the BCS media guide, the bowl ban alone has the potential to cost USC nearly $2MM (the minimum revenue received by a university selected for two consecutive bowl games) and up to $36MM (total earnings for consecutive BCS bowl appearances). These consequences are only a portion of the damage that will be done to the storied USC football program, as its talent pool will be substantially hampered by the loss of available scholarships.

 

In contrast, the player found to be complicit in flagrant rule violations and the coach that allowed the violations to go unnoticed saw little to no repercussions for their actions. In the 2006-2007 fiscal year Pete Carroll was the highest paid coach in the college ranks, as the LA Times reported that he received $4.4MM in total earnings. The same year, Reggie Bush signed a 6 year contract with the New Orleans Saints that guaranteed $26.3MM, with a potential total of $51MM. The combined earnings of Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush in 2006-2007 alone comes to a total of nearly $8MM. Both men have gone on to highly lucrative and successful careers in the NFL, while the program that brought them their rewards has been left in shambles.

While the world of college football waits with baited breath for the NCAA to hand down its findings and likely sanctions to the University of Miami, I have not heard the one question that really needs to be asked "How can these athletes be held responsible for their actions and the damage they are doing to the Universities that they attend.” It is the logical next step that though seemingly necessary nobody wants to take. It is a course of action that has yet to be broached and will define and forcibly change the accountability of players and coaches. It is time to ask the question "Should universities take civil action against players and coaches for a breach of fiduciary duties?"

 

Numerous cases of litigation hold that “a fiduciary relationship is created where one party reposes confidence and trust in another, who thereby gains a resulting influence and superiority (Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP).” Though yet to be officially interpreted by a court, the relationships of coaches and players to their universities fall within this criteria. After the NCAA hands down its decision to the University of Miami, perhaps it is time that the university sets a precedent for coach and player conduct. The players that used the University of Miami as a stepping stone to fame and fortune, the coaches that collected millions from public institutions to cultivate student athletes, perhaps it is time these men that are individually responsible are made individually accountable. Accountable to their universities, their fans, and the game. .

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