Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist known for, among other things, having a strange preoccupation with China’s authoritarian model of government. Wouldn’t it be great, he asks wistfully, if, just for one day, we could bypass all of the annoying politics and “authorize the right solutions” for our nation? It’s not such a strange notion, actually. How many of us have had a great idea that would solve everything if only the stupid people would do things our way, the right way?
You don’t have to look much further than the topic of a college football playoff to find this at work among sports fans. My idea is so simple and would make everyone three trillion dollars, but the stupid, evil, greedy conferences aren’t smart enough to realize it. If only there were someone who could make them fall in line.
The college football punditry is in this mode now. Blutarsky goes to work on Pete Thamel’s lament that “no one is in charge” of college football. Tony Barnhart joins in with a call for “a commissioner of college football” as a way “to get college football out of the ethical ditch.”
No one ever really says what this commissioner is supposed to do, but we expect that this Solomon will, as Thamel dreams, “look out for the greater good of the game.” (The “game”, incidently, that’s never been more popular, more lucrative, and which has television networks lining up to bid for rights.) Barnhart has a vision that such a commissioner would have “the last word” on such matters as the Cam Newton case. As opposed to the last word belonging to the NCAA’s enforcement division? Is this commissioner supposed to step in and overrule unpopular decisions made by the current governing processes?
Newton wasn’t allowed to play because no one did anything. He was allowed to play after the NCAA applied its own rules (as flawed as they were) and made the appropriate decision based on the information available at the time. So would Barnhart’s commissioner ignore these rules, make up new ones on the fly, or find some miscellaneous reason to suspend someone that looks guilty in order to get the result demanded by the conventional wisdom?
Why not get rid of that tangled mess of NCAA rules and come up with new ones? Barnhart’s vision goes in that direction. Who needs the NCAA?
The sport has become too big to be managed within in the limitations of the NCAA framework. If a way cannot be found to accommodate these schools then they should leave the NCAA and form their own organization and make their own rules.
That idea might have support from both sides of the aisle, as it were, but not for the reasons Barnhart imagines. Top schools and conferences would love to operate without having to subsidize the bottom 75% of the 346 Division I schools. The end result though wouldn’t be the top-down structure Barnhart describes. It would be a federation of a handful of conferences with even greater visibility and influence than they have now.
Barnhart laments that what makes college football great leads to what he sees as a flaw.
At the end of the day, every institution has a right to self-determination. Texas A&M is currently a member the Big 12 conference, not the National Football League. It does not have to subjugate its mission, either academically or athletically, to a larger body unless it chooses to do so. Conference membership is voluntary. The conference serves the collective needs of the institutions. The institutions do not serve the conference. They cooperate, they consult, and they compromise, but they do not serve.
That’s a beautiful summary of college athletics, but somehow the competing self-interests of the member schools and conferences is a problem. Things would be a lot smoother if everyone would just align themselves to the “greater good” enforced by some central figure. Sure, it might not be the best for your school or even your specific conference, but think of the game! That paragraph also captures but doesn’t explore the essential difference between college athletics and a pro league. The schools aren’t franchises and cannot be operated that way.
Barnhart’s description of the conference structure shouldn’t stop where it does. The same language can be used to describe the relationship between the school, the conference, AND the NCAA. The NCAA is run by and serves its members, not the other way ’round. Barnhart suggests that “if NCAA President Mark Emmert wants to get a handle on some of the excesses of college football, then go to the presidents and sell them on the idea for a commissioner of college football.” That’s backwards. If the presidents that make up the NCAA decide there is a problem with “the excesses of college football,” they will empower Emmert or whomever they appoint to take action. From where I sit, they don’t seem to be moving in that direction.