Poe’s Perspective: NCAA is in need of systemic change

Julia Poe | Daily Trojan

I’m tired of hearing about the FBI investigation into the NCAA.

It was good drama for the first few weeks, and it’s certainly kept pretty much every sports journalist in the country busy since last fall. But at this point, I’ve realized that this obsession over recruiting needs to end.

When it comes to systemic issues, bribes are the last thing the NCAA needs to worry about. Part of this issue has to do with paying college athletes. Another part of it has to do with the apparent alter egos of the NCAA — strict on some issues, lax to a point of negligence about others.

The truth about the NCAA is that it is a business. Although college athletics attempt to hide behind a thinly veiled guise of “amateurism,” that concept has long since been forgotten. In an era when football and basketball teams are billion-dollar ventures, it’s impossible to act as if the athletes and those surrounding them are operating under purely non-professional interests.

Basketball is a business. Football is a business. And with the continuing insanity of the FBI investigation, it’s becoming harder and harder for the NCAA to act like its athletics are anything but.

At the end of the day, the FBI and the NCAA can do their worst — level sanctions, pull trophies and championship rings, destroy careers and fire employees — but without systemic change, all will remain the same. This wave will be punished, and for a few years perhaps the recruitment craze will die down. But it will never subsist. It will never go away.

And at what cost does all of this enforcement come? The NCAA has dedicated pages of its guidebook in recruitment to the appropriate ways to avoid bribing, and often the organization is focusing on the enforcement of violations that are miniscule — a dinner at P.F. Changs, a couple hundred dollars gifted to family members.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is embroiled in a number of other issues that hardly receive any attention from the organization’s top leaders. In the light of the sexual assault trials of former Team USA women’s gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, it is hard to pretend that all of this controversy over bribes is really all that important.

The NCAA turns a blind eye to issues of violence and sexual assault on a monthly basis, often shielding and protecting predators all the way up to the top of its institution. Every season, we read a new headline — Tyreek Hill, Joe Mixon, the list goes on and on — and for each of these cases there are most likely dozens of others that go unreported and unseen.

Yet what is this organization concerned with? Recruitment rules. The NCAA will fuss and panic over anything from an off-the-books dinner to a $100,000 bribe with absolute intensity and militaristic attention to detail. So why can’t they show the same foresight and care when handling other issues?

And even when it comes to recruitment, the NCAA cares more about money than anything else. The NCAA will write and rewrite rules about who can buy what recruitment, yet it still lacks basic rules about not using sex or “hostesses” — students who are trained to act as glorified escorts for potential recruits, most of whom are underage — despite a gluttony of hostess-related scandals that have plagued college football recruiting in the last two decades.

But recruitment bribes simply aren’t a big enough of a deal to continue to fixate on them so strongly. The NCAA has bigger fish to fry, and by shifting its focus to recruiting debacles rather than actually addressing deeper systemic problems is a form of deflection that is probably more sinister than many fans realize.

This will be an uphill battle. It’s impossible to predict if athletic salaries could help or hurt the NCAA. The notion of paying athletes automatically brings up a seemingly endless series of questions: Who do you pay? How much do you pay? How can this system comply with Title IX?

I won’t pretend to have all of the answers. This is something that will take time and energy. But at this point, something has to give. It’s up to the NCAA to decide what the next step looks like.

Julia Poe is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Tuesdays.