Where's the Integrity in College Sports?


A great deal of money rides on the success of college sports teams today. A bad team on the playing field means less fans at the games, less merchandise sold, and ultimately less money being funneled into the university. This need to win has undoubtedly led to an increase in NCAA violations.

This decade, the NCAA has found infractions in nearly half of all top-level athletic programs, with major infractions doubling since the 1990s. The influx of infractions has permanently scarred the college athletics landscape, as schools will do just about anything to showcase a winning product. The lack of potent regulation has created a chaotic system that provides little consequences to those caught breaking the law, causing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to call for the system to be cleaned up. The NCAA needs to set a precedent by handing out harsher penalties to violators. Coaches can no longer skate through unscathed and rulings must cause schools to feel the pinch in the wallet or the system will continue to deteriorate.

According to CBS Sports, “Since 1987, there have been 72 major infractions committed by 56 of the nation's current 120 FBS programs, including 44 of the current 67 automatic-qualifying BCS members — a staggering 65.7% from the six power conferences.”

The most notable NCAA violator was Southern Methodist University football, which was given the death penalty for its pay-for-play infractions in 1987. A precedent should have been sent, yet was not. Recently, the University of Miami averted the death penalty after 12 of its current players were suspended for taking improper benefits from a booster, who has shelled out cash to players and the university since 2002. Oklahoma men’s basketball avoided it after asking the NCAA to increase their post-season ban following a second rules violation within a five-year period – a crime worthy of the death penalty. Since 1987, there have been nearly three-dozen schools eligible to receive the death penalty but the NCAA failed to lay the hammer down.

Schools are more than willing to test the mettle of the NCAA because the benefits far outweigh the risks. Furthermore, they know that if they are caught, the ruling will likely do little to hurt their chances at winning games. Rulings need to drastically impact the ability of the school to put a winning product on the field, at least for a season or two.

The amount of money available to teams via TV deals, bowl games, and endorsements is too good to pass up. Football powerhouses Texas, Georgia, Penn State all brought in over $70 million in revenue in the 2009-2010 season. If the NCAA wants to really stop schools from breaking the rules, they need to hit them where it hurts: the wallet. Take USC’s recent ruling. It’s a tough punishment but still allows for the school’s games to be televised, allowing it to take in millions in television revenue. Prohibiting games to air on television will cut down on revenue and ultimately hinder their ability to throw money at prospective players.

While some are guilty of violations, the players are ultimately those that are hurt the most by NCAA rulings, especially those who were honest and followed the rules. The rulings handcuff players, keeping them out of post-season play, and strip them of prior accomplishments. The players are made to look like the villains in the process; they took the money and they cost the team a chance at glory. But in reality, the upheaval should be directed at the adults responsible for shoveling money, cars, women, etc. in their face. The lack of funds trickling back down from the school itself, I believe, cause some of the decisions made by student athletes. I do not advocate pay-for-play colleges sports, but the funds need to be better invested, rather than giving coaches multimillion-dollar contracts.

For their role in infractions, coaches largely go unscathed. Schools or the conferences often take the lead on punishments when the NCAA should, making for minor suspensions that do little to curtail the problems (i.e. Jim Tressel and Bruce Pearl). Violating coaches are often able to keep their jobs or float to another with little hindrance. Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari was free to take the Kentucky basketball job, without punishment, even though he left Memphis in the midst of violations. Former USC head football coach Pete Carroll walked free to the NFL even though blood was on his hands with the Reggie Bush scandal. Coaches are a huge component of a school’s violations, but it is rare that they are punished to the extent that the players and the school are. Coaches are “role models” for student athletes and if they cannot follow the rules, who’s to think the athletes will. Coaches need to be held accountable, whether it is through a lengthy suspension or other means.

The collegiate athletic system is broken. The system is all about making money on the backs of young adults while coaches and administrators rake in the benefits of cheating the system. The NCAA needs to enforce stricter penalties that will not only suspend/ban those who break the rules, but also limit the amount of revenue a school can make off its sports teams. The integrity of college athletics depends on it. 

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