Monday, August 1, 2011

NCAA Madness Part II: An Insider’s Perspective

I recently suggested, here, that the problem in college sports isn’t the schools, players and coaches that break NCAA rules, but rather the bureaucrats that make the rules in the first place.  One of The Legal Watchdog’s readers is Norm Cloutier, Professor of Economics and Faculty Athletics Representative for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, my alma mater and home of the NCAA Division-II Parkside Rangers.  With Norm’s permission, I have reprinted his insightful comments after the jump.

Hi Michael,
Thanks for the link and discussion.  This is a topic near and dear to me because I am UW-Parkside’s FAR (Faculty Athletics Representative).  A FAR certifies, along with the U’s compliance officer (CO) and AD, that student athletes (SA) are academically eligible to compete, and more generally acts as the liaison between athletics and the academic sides of the campus.  Every NCAA institution must have a FAR. 
You mentioned the cost of rules compliance, and my short description above shows that, indeed, there is an ongoing cost of meeting NCAA and internal institutional rules for SAs: the compliance officer is nearly a full-time position (he has other duties) and I could be doing other things on campus.
As to violations of NCAA rules and the NCAA expectation that they can and should be followed, the NCAA knows that institutions cannot possibly follow all its regulations.  The cop on the beat is the compliance officer.  NCAA officials have been known to say that if the CO does not find and self-report at least two secondary violations per year, he or she is not doing their job.  In other words, they explicitly recognize that coaches and SAs cannot possibly be fully conversant with all the subtleties of (changing) NCAA rules.
But really, in my view, this topic comes down to two issues: (1) should SAs be held to amateur status, and (2) whatever the decision to #1, should there be some restriction on athletic activity in SA’s university experience. Because I am a market based economist – a conditional ideologue, if that is possible – I must admit that I am conflicted on the first issue. 
Without answering either of these two questions, I can say, from my direct experience as FAR and a former SA myself, many coaches, though not all, will squeeze every minute of the day for athletic activity that they can.  
I will offer an example of issues that come before the NCAA membership. Every time there is a proposal for a rule change, SAs are asked their view through each institution’s, conference’s, and national Student Athlete Advisory Committee.  Recently in NCAA Division II there was a suggested rule change that would allow SAs to voluntarily participate in a weight training program during a period that heretofore prohibited organized athletic activity.    No coaches would be present, but a strength trainer would observe and could provide guidance on technique, and it would be strictly voluntary. So what is the problem?  Many SAAC groups around the country said “no” because they realized that what is “allowed” would soon become implicitly mandatory within the culture of their athletic program, and once again the “A” in SA would take precedent over the “S.”
I agree that NCAA rule interpretations can sound silly, but once you accept the notion of amateurism you quickly come to the realization that coaches, often times with the explicit (and certainly implicit) encouragement of the institution, will try to get every advantage that they can. 
BTW, if you have not seen it already, here is a cool site on the institutional subsidization of NCAA DI athletic programs:  A very sad commentary as we see universities axe entire academic departments.
Norman R. Cloutier
Professor of Economics
Director, Center for Economic Education
Director, Foreign Film Series
Faculty Athletics Representative
University of Wisconsin-Parkside
900 Wood Road
Kenosha, WI  53141

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