Kinder, gentler NCAA is a welcome change

The National Collegiate Athletic Association demonstrated a surge of faith in individual programs last week when it gave athletes permission to take jobs. The decision was a welcome surprise, considering that for years the NCAA has snubbed many issues concerning athletes’ privileges in its desire to maintain tight reins over schools. The decision marks the beginning of a much-needed attitude change in the NCAA, but more importantly, it signals the organization’s willingness to recognize that it needs improvement.
In recent years, the NCAA has acted much like a strict boss who clocks break time to the minute. The organization’s book of rules is large and specific, and punishment for violation is swift and severe. This behavior has attracted criticism that the organization’s rules are impractical and often overbearing, wasting time and money. NCAA officials have long defended its procedures and rules, saying that they ensure fairness. To a large degree, the nationwide corruption, gifts and low academic standards in athletics have declined. That doesn’t mean the NCAA conducts itself in the most efficient manner.
A good example of excessive regulations occurred last fall when the NCAA deemed Roseville High School senior Winny Brodt ineligible to play collegiate hockey because of a mistake in her high school’s approved course application. Although Brodt earned a 3.5 grade-point average and was a member of the National Honor Society, the NCAA ruled that a semester-long English course she took did not meet its standards. In a similarly absurd story, Northwestern football player and theater major Darnell Autry sued the NCAA because the rules prohibited him from taking an unpaid part in a film. Although the NCAA’s rules may have had good intentions, these cases represent immoderate regulation.
The most practical decision the NCAA made last week was to reorganize itself. Members agreed that the former one-school, one-vote system did not work well considering that Division I schools and Division III schools often differ in structure. Division I schools will operate on a more corporate model, with a board of directors making decisions. Division II and III schools will be governed separately. This will allow schools to address issues that best relate to their competitive level. Although all schools share common issues, Division I schools’ levels of exposure, corporate sponsorship and recruitment are miles apart from the smaller school domain.
The NCAA is shifting some of its administrative power to individual schools. After years of skeptical beliefs that athletes and schools would abuse athletes’ abilities to hold jobs, the organization has finally opened its mind. Athletes and coaches have often complained that a scholarship is not enough to support a student who comes from disadvantaged backgrounds. In recognizing this financial need, the NCAA conceded that they must put some level of trust in schools to keep them accountable. Certainly, the NCAA should not revert to the old system of lax rules and collegiate self-government. It serves an important watchdog role in making sure colleges play by the rules both on the field and on campus; but acknowledging some rules may be better administered by the individual school is a leap of faith worth taking.