I wouldn’t have said this, or believed it, a year ago at this time, but we’re now headed for the post-amateurism phase of college athletics.
It will be a long road, and I have no idea when, or exactly where, it will end, but the days of college football players taking illicit payments, some schools getting caught, those schools getting hammered by NCAA violations and everyone else whistling as they go on down the road are over.
It wasn’t that long ago that Southern Cal was devastated by NCAA sanctions following an investigation of former Trojan Reggie Bush and his family. That was the old model. South Carolina got a small taste of it in 2011 when it was hit with penalties following an investigation into The Whitney hotel and the SAM Foundation.
The new model? I don’t know what it will be, but it won’t be that. The NCAA has become a shadow of its former self, unsure of how it wants to enforce rules and seemingly powerless to carry out whatever decision it does make.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was the tipping point. After allegations that he was paid for signing hundreds of autographs that showed up for sale on EBay, the NCAA investigated for a couple weeks, and Manziel came out of the deal with a half-game suspension. The end. Nothing more to see here.
Now comes Yahoo’s story on Wednesday that links players at Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State to payments from sports agents that, under the old model, would have been coach-killers and program-stoppers if proven. These days? You think the NCAA wants to take on Alabama? You think it could even if it wanted to?
The narrative in the media has turned in the last 12 months from: “Rule breakers must be punished” to “The rules are dumb anyway.” How the NCAA handles the Crimson Tide, Volunteers and Bulldogs (but mostly the Crimson Tide, let’s be honest) will offer a blueprint of the future.
Does it include an Olympic model that allows college athletes to sign endorsement deals? Does it include allowing college players to be represented by agents? Is adding a few thousand bucks to their annual scholarship quiet the noise enough for the model to limp along another 10 years? Will the NFL and NBA decide they are tired of relying on a broken NCAA as a talent developer and create true minor leagues like baseball?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I now know they are going to have to be answered one way or another.