If there’s one thing fans of college sports can agree on it’s that the NCAA sucks. While well-intentioned at its core, it has turned into an unwieldy, hypocritical bureaucracy more interested in self-preservation and revenue generation than the best interests of the “student athletes”*
(Favorite NCAA hypocrisy is the insistence on the term “student athletes” during NCAA sanctioned events. Because nothing says “student athlete” more than the Derrick Roses and John Walls of the world.)
In recent weeks, they’ve added two new items to their list of stupid: potentially expanding the men’s NCAA tournament to 96 teams and exploring taking away touchdowns for football players who taunt opponents.
1) Expanding the tournament. Dumb. The argument “why mess with something that is already perfect” is often short-sighted, but in this case it carries the day. You can make a case that there are teams deserving of tourney bids each year yet are not selected. But 32 of them? Really? That seems a little extreme.
One eight seed and two six seeds have won the NCAA title. Only two double digit seeds have ever made the Final Four. Adding 32 teams to the tournament is not correcting some great injustice. It’s watering down a tournament that is about as competitive as you could ask. Another weekend of games isn’t going to make the tournament better. Rather, it will be a weekend of mismatches and blowouts.
Besides, we already have the expanded tournament. The conference tournaments the week before the NCAAs in many ways serve as an expanded tournament. What’s more exciting: watching a Patriot League conference title game, played on a home court with screaming fans, or watching those same two teams fly halfway across the country to play random opponents in front of half empty arenas?
There is no logical explanation for expanding to 96 teams beyond taking money away from the conferences and sending it straight to the NCAA’s account. I can’t imagine conferences will dispense with their post-season tournaments. But I also would not expect them to draw as well if most of the teams are guaranteed to be playing a week later. For an organization that is insistent on not instituting a playoff of any kind at the BCS level, it’s an interesting suggestion to stretch out the basketball season even further. Making the “student athletes” travel for up to five straight weeks doesn’t seem to be in their best interests.
2) Taunting. Dumber. This comes across as a bunch of old, white academics taking a stand against the urbanization of the game.
At first glance, the proposal has some merit. I think most people are tired of the incessant woofing that goes on during games. At the same time, smack is part of the game. You blow someone up, you get to woof a bit. You throw a wicked head fake and jet by a corner while he’s picking up his jock, you can say a few words.
I have two problems with the rule, though. First, taking points off the board for something that gains the offensive player no advantage is draconian. In effect, referees will be saying “I disagree with the moral implications of your actions while scoring, therefore I’m taking away the points.”
Second, it’s purely a judgement call. Watch a full slate of games on a Saturday and you’ll see a wide disparity in how calls are made from game-to-game and conference-to-conference. I’m sure the NCAA will lay down strict guidelines for what constitutes taunting, but we’ve all seen the current rules interpreted differently at different times. A referee out of position may think a player is pointing at the guy he blew past when in fact he’s pointing at the guy who is making the play-making block.
Oh, and it’s not just the offense that taunts.* Will there be as heavy a penalty for defensive players who taunt as offensive ones? There’s no equal punishment for a defensive end that taunts after a sack to that of a running back who taunts on a scoring play.
(Apparently I have three problems.)
It’s fine to attempt to keep sportsmanship paramount and reduce the amount of unsportsmanlike conduct. But there’s a better way to do it than taking fairly scored points off of the board.
I think this is going to be a very interesting decade for college sports, at least at the BCS/Division 1 level. No one seems to be happy with anything that the NCAA does. They enact silly rules governing game-play and are constantly in a reactionary mode when it comes to regulating recruiting. They are woefully understaffed on the rules enforcement side, and it takes a monumental scandal to get a BCS school to get seriously punished for rules violations.
The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, in which the former UCLA basketball player argues that the NCAA owes him, and other players, compensation for using his likeness could cripple the organization and its members if O’Bannon wins. Throw in a new wave of conference expansion/consolidation and, at least at the top levels, college football and basketball will look very different in ten years.
I don’t think the BCS conferences would think twice about breaking away from the NCAA if they thought they could still collect the revenues they’re making under the NCAA umbrella. The NCAA could well be an organization that governs the lower levels of college athletics, while the BCS schools operate at a higher plane, somewhere between the NCAA and professional sports. I’m sure whatever system is in place, there will still be a bureaucracy in place for us to hate.