Ahead Of BCS Championship, Amateurism Considered

As Oregon and Auburn play for the BCS championship Monday, a look at the state of amateurism in college football. What can be changed to prevent the types of scandals that have hit programs involved in some of the biggest games during this bowl season?

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Glendale, Arizona, tonight, the college football season comes to an end. There, Auburn and Oregon play in the BCS Championship game. It's been a long, often exciting, season, but one tinged by scandal. Topflight college football and scandal are not a new pair.

Over the years, there's been a steady drumbeat of incidents - athletes running afoul of the many NCAA rules on recruiting and eligibility. But scandal has touched two of these month's premiere bowl games, including tonight's.

And as NPR's Tom Goldman reports, that has stirred new rumblings about reform.

TOM GOLDMAN: It's been more than a month since the NCAA told Auburn quarterback Cam Newton he could play tonight. The NCAA decided Newton didn't know his dad was trying to work a pay-for-play deal with another school that was recruiting Cam.

The investigation reportedly continues, and there's still some suspicion rattling around that Newton knew what his dad was up to and shouldn't have been declared eligible for tonight's game.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: No such suspicion in downtown Scottsdale yesterday, at least among the thousands of blue-and-orange-clad Auburn fans who gathered for a huge pep rally.

And to Brian King's credit, the 40-year-old from Selma, Alabama, didn't spit any of the tobacco he had stuffed in his lower lip on me.

Should Cam Newton be able to play in this game?

Mr. BRIAN KING: I think he should. They don't have any concrete evidence on him and - but until they have concrete evidence, they can't stop him from playing.

GOLDMAN: Besides, said his buddy James Roberts, also from Selma, maybe we need to point that finger of suspicion elsewhere.

Mr. JAMES ROBERTS: And, you know, the NCAA, here, lately, it seems like they're making all the rules up anyway.

GOLDMAN: Roberts was referring to that equally controversial NCAA decision allowing several Ohio State players to play in last week's Sugar Bowl even though they'd been suspended for multiple games next season because of rules violations.

Mr. MARK EMMERT (President, NCAA): I understand why that case causes people to scratch their head.

GOLDMAN: But NCAA president Mark Emmert says the association merely was following a rule that let the Ohio State players play in the bowl game. It's a rule, says Emmert, like the rule that paved the way for the Cam Newton decision, that could be modified in the future. But is that the best response to an endless parade of scandal? Tweak the rules or change the system.

Law Professor Peter Goplerud advocated for change in a series of articles in the mid-1990s. Goplerud advocated for paying players. He says, all these years later, the need for reform is as great, if not greater, with so much money coming into schools from revenue-generating sports.

Professor PETER GOPLERUD (Florida Coastal School of Law): The University of Texas, a year ago, being first school ever to pass the $10 million mark in annual revenues just from royalties from licensed products.

GOLDMAN: Mark Emmert says, we will not and should not ever pay athletes. Scholarships are sufficient, he says, and the NCAA offers emergency funds for when they're not. Besides, Emmert asserts this image of athletic departments awash in cash just isn't true. Last year, he says, only 14 schools in the country had athletic programs running in the black. All the more reason, says sports agent Donald Yee, to push reform even farther.

Mr. DONALD YEE (Sports Agent): I think there are better business models out there, more innovative business models that can be more efficient economically.

GOLDMAN: Yee says the NCAA's tight reins on amateurism and player compensation prevent him even from offering bottled water to college athletes who visit his L.A. office. The business model he's promoting pays players. More dramatically, it has the university put out for bid the rights to operate the football program to a third party: a hedge fund, private equity company or wealthy alum. Yee uses the example of UCLA.

Mr. YEE: UCLA would negotiate within that agreement certain profit splits with that private third party, and the private third party would do all the work in operating the entire program.

GOLDMAN: It would be, Yee admits, a professional college football program, albeit adorned with all the trappings of a college team, the same trademarks, uniforms, marching bands. It would, he says, end the charade that business doesn't permeate topflight college football.

To all this, the NCAA's Emmert says, basically, when pigs fly. But Yee says, it doesn't matter the NCAA won't budge. College sports are fluid. Look at, for instance, all the recent shifting of college conferences with money being the driving force. For now, college players like Cam Newton himself think about what it would mean to get a piece of the financial pie.

Mr. CAM NEWTON (College Football Player): Would I like players to get paid? You know, I'd be lying in saying that I wish we could get paid. But do we? No.

GOLDMAN: Will they? Reformers hope it happens legally.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.