NCAA should drop the facade it runs football
In making a call the other day for the NCAA to crack down on cheating in college football, former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr recalled having a conversation with the late NCAA president, Myles Brand, about the subject.
Carr said Brand told him he didn't have the authority to do a lot of things people wanted done.
''Well, the question is, who does?'' Carr said.
No one, it seems, and that goes to the heart of what is wrong with college football today. Give the NCAA a lacrosse championship to put on and it does fine, but the organization is a sham at best when it comes to big-money sports, providing little more than a cover for the big schools and conferences to make even more money.
If there was any doubt about that, it was answered this week when the NCAA meekly obliged its Bowl Championship Series masters by licensing the Fiesta Bowl for postseason play despite revelations the bowl has served as a virtual ATM over the years for its former executive director and his many cronies. The NCAA slapped the Fiesta with one year's probation, during which time officials apparently can't spend any more bowl money on strippers or golf junkets.
Any further doubt was erased when the same organization that put the Fiesta on ''probation'' told the Justice Department that it had nothing to do with overseeing postseason play and that the lack of a playoff system for college football should be directed to those running the BCS.
You heard right. The organization put in place to control college athletics admitted it has no control of the showcase of the biggest sport in college athletics.
That shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who follows college football. The NCAA has long since abdicated its role in overseeing the sport, allowing the power conferences and the marquee universities to come up with whatever schemes they can to maximize the millions of dollars that flow into their coffers.
And when those dollars are at risk - as they were at the Sugar Bowl - the NCAA is more than happy to bend its own rules so the BCS show can go on. Allowing Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and his teammates to play when they were facing suspensions was the ultimate in hypocrisy for an organization that epitomizes hypocrisy.
The NCAA's claim that it has nothing to do with the bowl system came in a letter Wednesday from president Mark Emmert in response to a Justice Department query about possible antitrust violations in the BCS. Emmert said that since the NCAA doesn't control the BCS it would be inappropriate for him to comment on how teams are selected for the major bowls and the national title game.
In other words, ''Don't look at us.''
This comes just a week after Emmert talked about how he wanted to beef up the NCAA's enforcement staff and start hitting schools who violate its hybrid amateurism rules with tougher sanctions. The NCAA has basically relied on schools to turn themselves in for violations over the years, only to find out - as Carr rightfully pointed out - that some feel the need to come clean more than others.
Indeed, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel seemed more than happy to keep quiet about what he knew was going on with Pryor and others selling signed jerseys and whatever they could get their hands on to make a little spending money. It wasn't until things really went south that Tressel fessed up and offered to serve a five-game suspension next season along with his star players.
Even though the NCAA gives the appearance of trying to enforce rules, it doesn't even make an effort to corral the schools and conferences that have hijacked the football bowl system.
With good reason, perhaps. The big schools and conferences are formidable foes who will fight to the end to keep their cozy cartel delivering riches by the truckload every year, and Emmert likely knows he would probably be looking for work elsewhere if he tried taking them on.
The system works for the big schools and conferences, even if it is inherently unfair to everyone else. A little controversy is the price they pay for sweetheart television deals that fuel their massive athletic programs and make sure their football teams have the resources to stay dominant for years to come.
Let a player sell a jersey for pocket change, and the NCAA is all over the student. Let its schools run a cartel that makes millions while not allowing other schools in, and the NCAA says it can't do anything about it.
Maybe it's time for the NCAA to simply give up the facade. Either quit pretending it oversees college football or step up and actually do it.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg