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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

College sports teams generate a lot of money, but the athletes doing all the work on the field see very little of it.

Commentator Frank Deford wonders if it's time to change the rules.

FRANK DEFORD: 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 now 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 star, so much more meaningful. The charges, you see, are current; namely that someone purporting to represent Newton, demanded $180,000 for him to enroll at Mississippi State.

To its credit, 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, quote, "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 its 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 sports were supposed to be amateur then. But by now, 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.

INSKEEP: Frank Deford is all-pro. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

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