Should NCAA Rethink Its Stance On Paying Athletes?

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Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton watches a replay of a touchdown. i

Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton watches a replay of a touchdown run against the Chattanooga Mocs during a Nov. 6, 2010 game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. Officials at Mississippi State University reported recently that someone claiming to represent Newton demanded $180,000 in exchange for enrolling at the school. Newton's father says he didn't want his son to attend Mississippi State because there he would be, "a rented mule." Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton watches a replay of a touchdown.

Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton watches a replay of a touchdown run against the Chattanooga Mocs during a Nov. 6, 2010 game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. Officials at Mississippi State University reported recently that someone claiming to represent Newton demanded $180,000 in exchange for enrolling at the school. Newton's father says he didn't want his son to attend Mississippi State because there he would be, "a rented mule."

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The wheels turn slowly in the crack justice department of the NCAA. Each college is supposed to police itself with its own internal compliance office –– or as one cynical administrator described it to me: "It's a 'silo structure,' a big tube constructed so that the only people who know what's going on are the very people inside the silo breaking the rules."

Basically, the NCAA investigative force, which is as outmanned as the constabulary in Somalia, must depend on conference rivals ratting one another out. Typically, however, by the time any penalty is handed down, the culprits have moved on to greener pastures.

A desperately favorite NCAA punishment is to require the offending college to forfeit the games it won sometime in its dark past. Oh, that smarts. That really scares cheaters. Changing old record books is like telling you that the vacation you had in Jamaica four years ago, when you were drinking rum, playing golf and swimming with a beautiful woman in the moonlight really wasn't any fun.

That's what makes this week's accusations involving Cam Newton, the Auburn University star, so much more meaningful. The charges are current and namely allege that someone purporting to represent Newton demanded $180,000 for him to enroll at Mississippi State University.

To its credit, Mississippi State reported the matter, and to be fair to both Newton and Auburn there is no evidence that the would-be broker was authorized to act or that Auburn subsequently anted up.

Withal, the most illuminating tidbit in the whole saga is that Newton's father, a preacher, says he didn't want his son to go to Mississippi State because there he would be, "a rented mule."

Well, that's the best definition of college athletes I've heard.

Everybody makes real money –– some real big money –– except the athletes, except the mules, the Cam Newtons. They're not allowed to be represented by reputable agents, so of course, mountebanks come out of the woodwork. They're not allowed to be paid, so of course money will slip under the table. But the NCAA, in delusion, persists in trying to continue to prop up the failed concept of 19th century amateurism.

Yes, 50 years ago, the NCAA had company in hypocrisy. Many Olympic sports –– skiing, track, swimming, figure skating –– were supposed to be amateur then. So were tennis and rugby. By now, all these sports have realized it was impossible –– let alone immoral –– to be popular, commercial entertainments, but not remunerate the performers. In all the world of big-time sport only in American college football and basketball does the myth of amateurism still exist.

The Cam Newton case may itself add up to nothing, but it perfectly illustrates, once again, that the American way of college sports is outdated, corrupt and impossible to maintain, with rented mules.

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