Broken System, Not Cam Newton, to Blame
Cam Newton, the college player, is not the problem.
Cecil Newton, his dad, is not the problem.
Kenny Rogers, the rogue agent, is not the problem.
John Bond, the former player turned whistleblower, is not the problem.
They all are merely symptoms of what is the real problem: the continued marriage of the amateur ideal with the increasingly gaudy commercialization of college sports, particularly football and men's basketball. The two can't get along.
They never will. They never could. Theirs is a nonsensical relationship.
And with word that the FBI is investigating how Cam Newton, the Heisman frontrunner as quarterback of undefeated No. 2 Auburn, may have reached his decision as to where to take his prodigious talents, it is absolutely time that amateurs and revenue-generating college sports divorced. That is the only way to put an end, once and for all, to the tired story of cheating in college recruiting and the besmirching of the virtues of amateurism.
Certainly, the FBI should have more important things to concern itself with rather than why some hotshot teenaged athlete chose State U over Private U, or vice-versa. When we get to the point that recruiting an athlete, or an athlete shopping him or herself, can be criminalized, we've gone too far.
But this is what happens when athletic departments are drowning in tens of millions of dollars made off the sweat of unpaid, if not uncompensated, athletes. It is almost a natural reaction. The unpaid laborers not only want something more in return, but also believe they are entitled to it. I agree.
One could even argue that what Cam Newton's father Cecil is accused by Rogers of doing, asking for a school to pay up to $180,000 for Cam's services, was nothing more than exercising fiduciary responsibility for the Newton family. If the school and the athletic department and the coach are going to rake in millions of dollars off Cam Newton's exploits, why shouldn't Cam Newton's family get something more than a one-year scholarship that pays room, board and tuition and is up for renewal each season?
Simply paying players is the old solution to this untenable relationship. Partitioning the athletic department and the college administration is a better one and, quietly, both parties have been moving apart in recent years.
For example, arguably the most-successful college athletic program in the past few years, Florida's, is organized under its own shingle as a not-for-profit foundation. It has its own budget. It generates its own revenues. And as a thank you for using the state's flagship university's name, it kicks back a fat check to the academy every year.
That is the main purpose of major college athletics these days and has been for a long time: make money. It isn't, as NCAA president Myles Brand argued to Congress in a 25-page letter a few years before he died in 2009. It isn't about education and, as such, shouldn't maintain its tax-exempt status. Texas's athletic department, with an annual budget upwards of $138 million, even made money while the national economy was steeping in recession. Its boss, DeLoss Dodds, isn't the old coach he used to be, but a savvy CEO instead. The corporation he directs -- like those his peers at Ohio State, USC, Oregon, Auburn, et al. run -- should be treated as such.
There is no question that colleges, like Maryland, where I am a visiting professor, want to make money, too. They want to develop courses and build edifices that attract students that bring the tuition that becomes part of the school's lifeblood. But they don't do some oxymoronic rules that threaten their ability to operate if they break them.
Football and men's basketball should be recognized as what they've become -- independent corporations flying the colors of the schools with which they're associated. They can cut checks back to school like they're doing now and help maintain lesser-profile sports, among other things. They can maintain conference memberships. Selling stock to the boosters and alumni that already support them can fund them. They could raise money from other corporations like Nike, which is a huge funder of Oregon athletics. (The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that between 2002 to 2007, schools in the nation's six premier athletic conferences, like Auburn's SEC, raised almost $4 billion to build new stadiums, arenas and practice and office facilities.)
And like any business, they would pay a salary to players who wouldn't have to worry about the remuneration ruining their eligibility to participate. The players could use their earnings to take classes, if they so desired, and not make a mockery of college education as athletics do today. (As we all know, many players are in school today only to hone their skills for that elusive pro career.) They could even concentrate full-time on their sport just like a journalism student does reporting or a theater student does acting.
Better yet, maybe schools could establish performance majors for athletes. If a student can major in dance, acting and music, why not major in the sport of his or her choosing? Why not legitimize the inclusion of athletics on the college campus as an endeavor of higher education?
For athletes who after, say, three years, the pro dream evaporates, allow them to enroll full-time in school to work towards a degree in a discipline they can turn into a job.
Bigger schools with more revenue can recruit with higher salaries, just like the best-heeled law firms do. It wouldn't be a stretch from what they do now. One reason schools like Florida, Texas and Auburn get such great athletes is because their facilities offer so much more than, say, Murray State.
In a sense, this is the way higher education in Europe handles athletics. It leaves students with athletic dreams to developmental academies connected to leagues like those for professional soccer. The sports on campus are deemphasized for recreational purposes.
As a result, they don't suffer Cam Newton scandals. Those are peculiar only in U.S. college athletics, a multi-billion dollar industry where the people most responsible get demonized for daring to realize their equitable share of it.