Marc Daniels: Don't Blame The NCAA For Portal-Mania

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They have been the easy target for years. When in doubt, blame the NCAA. It was always Mark Emmert's fault. The President of the NCAA bailed everyone out when it came to excuses when something went wrong in college athletics. Meaning, if you didn't like something, just say Emmert and his staff are just out of touch and not in tune with today's issues of college sports.

It's not that the NCAA is blame free or that many pages of their rulebook were not outdated or that some of the policies are not antiquated but the reality is the NCAA threw their hands up eventually and said, "Fine, if we the bad guys and everything we do is wrong, then go do it yourselves and what could possibly go wrong."

For years, the NCAA was criticized for limiting player movement. When a player wanted to transfer in college football and basketball the rules were different from other sports where players came and went. Why? That's a fair question but the NCAA was concerned that free movement was not good for the sport and not good for academic progress. But critics said, general students could transfer whenever they wanted and most sports allowed for free transfer, why not football and basketball? 

The transfer rule used to ask the athlete to file a form and basically get permission from their coach to leave. Heck, conferences even set up rules that prohibited players from transferring within a conference. A coach could even set a list of schools a player could not transfer to. Yes, admit it, that concept seems ridiculous today to think about. How would anyone think it's ok for a coach to tell a player where they can go? But we had such a policy.

Players would have to file waivers to the NCAA to get around some of the rules conferences put in place and there was no set system on how that waiver worked. Sometimes the NCAA group in charge of transfer waivers waited months to decide. The rules to get such a waiver approved were so strict that players often made up reasons like the sick aunt that needed care in a town 37 miles from the campus such players wanted to transfer to.

Those NCAA rules were ridiculous. Schools began to complain with greater volume and pressure began to mount to change the policies.

While the NCAA began to adjust the transfer policy something else happened. The concept of players making money off their name, image and likeness gained steam when the NCAA began to lose a series of court cases. Once the Supreme Court turned the NCAA rules on amateurism into an SNL skit, the game changed. States across the country ran to put in laws to allow athletes to make money off their name. Once that happened, the NCAA became powerless on player movement and limitations on players ability to make money. 

This all coincided with the NCAA adjusting their transfer rules and after giving all players an extra year of eligibility because of COVID, they also blocked no one from transferring that year and also allowed all players one free transfer. A player could go anywhere and not sit out and everyone got an additional year of eligibility. No longer did you have to sit in football and basketball for a season if you left from one school to the next.

But when schools and coaches then realized that NIL laws varied across the country and transfer rules were laxed, they asked the NCAA for guidance and uniformed policies on NIL and the NCAA said "we will ask Congress, but don't expect them to help, they have a few other things on their plate." And so states ran to set up NIL rules and then amended those same laws to make sure lawmakers protected their state's biggest football brands. We went from NIL guidelines in states that said one thing on Monday to only be changed on Tuesday once lawmakers realized their rival had an advantage.

Then coaches realized with no unified NIL policy and free transferring going on the Wild West had arrived. For years schools and coaches complained the NCAA's enforcement division took too long to rule on cases and they lacked any subpoena power and lacked the necessary funds to truly police the bylaws on the books. It was the big bad NCAA and they are so outdated they must go. Well, they listened and stepped aside.

Mark Emmert basically threw his hands up and said, "Fine, I/we will step aside and let you all run this." Media celebrated when Emmert basically said this and did eventually decide to step aside and that was truly cheered by many. But now what?

Former pro basketball player and US representative Tom McMillen now is the CEO of a group that represents the 131 FBS athletic directors. He recently spoke about whether FBS football should remain under the guidance of the NCAA. Some have suggested that it should break away. And do what?

Bill Hancock is the executive director of the College Football Playoff and some have suggested that the group should oversee the FBS. Hancock said his group has no interest. Why? Who wants that headache?

Here's why Hancock doesn't want any part of it and why that doesn't even make sense. It doesn't make sense because the College Football Playoff is made up of school presidents, conference commissioners and athletic directors from those conferences.............oh, that's right.......the same people that make up the NCAA.

McMillen has suggested significant changes to the football governance at the FBS level. Who is going to do that Tom? Even if the 10 conferences that play FBS "break away" who will set the rules for others to follow? Who will police those rules? Who will tell Georgia to stop doing something because it's not fair to Cal? Who investigates wrongdoing and who determines when a player can leave and how much a player can make? Someone has to write a rulebook.

And here's the irony of all this. When the conference commissioners got upset with Greg Sankey when he took Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 when the other commissioners would have done the same thing, the playoff expansion was tabled and many said the 12-team model was not happening any time soon. Then what happened? The school presidents who sit on the playoff board looked at how that group spent years researching the playoff expansion and months planning for it only to have egos get in the way of what appears to be a decision worth $450M per year with a larger playoff. Those presidents had one meeting and told the conference commissioners to get lost and voted to expand the playoff because of what? MONEY! They then told the kids to go figure out how to do the expansion and make the Rose Bowl fell in line or tell them to pound sand.

But the NCAA didn't create collectives, they had no choice but to accept them. There was nothing the NCAA could do to stop the "pay-for-play" model. When the NCAA tried to establish guidelines in NIL and try to make it that any athlete can benefit in true partnerships of promoting a product or service schools, teams, coaches and Sugar Daddys(also known as rich boosters who want to play GM) found loopholes to create pots of cash to pay players. No one cares or investigates the collective who is just paying cash to the player and getting deals with these players and their reps and most with no written contract. No fan or coach cares if the all-conference selection transfers to your school about the local business he will be promoting, just pay him to get him here and help the team win games.

Some say eventually schools will need to collectively bargain with players. Good luck. The larger the pool of players the greater the challenge in getting a fair deal. There is a reason owners will labor deals in the NFL, MLB and NBA. It is easy for 30-32 owners to agree to a plan compared to 1500 players. Now you think the 130 schools playing in FBS can actually get a deal with 10,000-15,000 kids? Stop it!

But everyone needs someone to blame and the NCAA remains the target of all criticism. But the reality is schools, athletic departments, coaches, players, media and fans all think they are the devil and need to go. Fine, you have basically done that but who do you want to run this machine? Who will oversee it? 

It's not that the NCAA didn't need to step out of the dark ages into the 21st century but don't forget who makes up the NCAA. It never was Mark Emmert. People think that a dozen people in a dark conference room in Indianapolis woke up each day thinking about how to screw over everyone else. Remember who makes up the NCAA....PRESIDENTS! They sit on all boards in creating policy. They had years and years to be ahead of the curve and update the rules and get all parties to work together. They didn't and now we have whatever we have. We have rich boosters dictating player movement and false promises made on transferring and players seeking a fourth school in four years.

All industries eventually settle into what they can be. I do not know the answer to all this. I have no idea how most of these collectives survive a second year. I do not think it's healthy for the sport that players move 2, 3 or 4 times in their career. It's hard for fans to follow and it comes down to rooting for laundry since most players come and go.

Change is hard and we usually prefer it to be slow but changes in college football have happened fast and it's hard to keep up. But blaming the NCAA for all this is an excuse. The greed of the game led to the people in charge of looking out for the game to focus on themselves and the money they could grab, not what is in the best interest of the game. That's why the game is like it is today.

Final note: Eggnog dates back to the 1770's and was also called Eggflip by the British.

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