Through the Trifocals

New legislation proposed by the NCAA may not be what it appears to be. There may be a hidden agenda that is not apparent on first interpretation. <br><br> Illinisports expands on the possible consequences of the legislation described by John Brumbaugh last week and tries to assess NCAA motives.

John Brumbaugh wrote an excellent summation last week describing new academic/scholarship rules established by the NCAA to govern University athletics. It reminded me of how the NCAA continues to create rules that serve purposes different than their stated intentions. And we are left to wonder why they don't seem to understand the needs of the athletes, coaches and universities.

From the perspective of the NCAA hierarchy, most of whom are representatives of academic faculty and administrators rather than athletic departments, this new legislation is well thought out, clever in concept, and likely to create the results they most want. Then why is it that so many coaches, players and fans feel that NCAA representatives continue to misunderstand the needs of athletes and athletic departments? To answer this seeming dichotomy, it is first necessary to study recent NCAA decisions for their consistencies and weaknesses. It is then required that we try to understand the real agenda of the rule makers.

Some people are thrilled with the elimination of the 5/8 rule in basketball. After all, no longer are coaches restricted to recruiting a maximum of five athletes any one year and eight for any two years. Since so many basketball coaches have ended up short of sufficient depth to compete at the highest levels due to unforseen circumstances, eliminating this rule can give them a chance to catch up in the next recruiting class. On the surface, this seems to be a good thing.

However, I believe it is simply a carrot thrown out to deceive people into believing the NCAA cares about them. I suspect it is being replaced by a set of rules that will, in the long run, be even more restrictive and punative.

On the surface, it appears admirable to want to reward schools that succeed in graduating their athletes with more scholarships than their less successful counterparts. However, since the maximum scholarship limit remains 13 for basketball and 85 for football, it is not a reward for anyone. Rather, it becomes a punishment for any school that, regardless of the reason, cannot graduate sufficient numbers of players. Probably, it is this punishment concept that is at the heart of the legislation. More on that later.

Another aspect of these new rules requires a student athlete to stay within one department of his university throughout his career. I can't speak for everyone, but I changed my mind about majors and professional career choices many times over the course of my life. And I think a large number of students change majors at least once during their college years. Granted, some schools keep players eligible by having them switch majors several times, and the NCAA desires to tighten this loophole. But going to the other extreme is not fair either.

What the NCAA is saying is that all athletes must choose a life path as freshmen and then stay on that one path throughout their years of eligibility. So, if an athlete begins in the College of Engineering and can't compete there, he or she may be forced to lose eligibility rather than switch to a more appropriate career path. And if a student cannot persevere for four or five years in a curriculum he might learn to detest before obtaining a degree he no longer wishes to use, then the university also loses a scholarship for future use. With a reduction in total scholarships, fewer athletes will have the opportunity to receive scholarship assistance to obtain a college education.

In a recent interview with Bob Asmussen of the "News-Gazette", Ron Turner said he might not have recruited Rocky Harvey if the proposed graduation/scholarship legislation were in place at the time. Rocky was just barely able to qualify for scholarship aid as a freshman and was thus an academic risk. Turner went on to remind us that Rocky was a hard worker who earned his degree in four years and proved more than worthy of the scholarship. But this is exactly the type of athlete who will suffer with the new legislation because honest schools will be afraid to take a chance on them. I believe that is what the NCAA really wants.

I know some of these rules might be modified or changed before they take effect. And I know I haven't read all the fine print and may somehow be misrepresenting parts of the new rules. But there is no doubt in my mind that these new rules will be punitive to athletes, coaches and teams. And there is no doubt there will be great confusion as to what the NCAA could possibly be thinking and frustration with the practical application of the new rules.

In its infinite wisdom, the NCAA has been far more consistent than many realize. Let's examine their previous rulings with an eye toward a common theme.

Proposition 48 and similar concepts enacted both before and since have been dramatized as aids to student athletes. Supposedly, athletes were encouraged to get better grades in high school and do better on their ACT or SAT college entrance exams so they could have a better chance to succeed academically at the college level. To some degree, that has been true. But still many have asked why the NCAA couldn't be a little more considerate to the needs of the athlete.

For instance, a non-qualifier, one who does not meet NCAA minimum academic requirements for high school grade point average or college entrance exams, can still enter a university if that university agrees to admit him. But the athlete is required to pay his own way for the first year, not participate in his chosen sport, not share anything with his recruited peers, and also lose one year of future eligibility. The NCAA is saying, "You can attend college, but we will punish you if you do." Is this a mistake or part of a plan?

A "partial qualifier" can enter a university because either his high school core curriculum grade point average or his entrance exam scores are sufficient, but not both. He is able to receive scholarship aid and practice with his team. However, he is still required to lose one year of eligibility unless he graduates after four years.

This four year maximum requirement seems confusing to some because most universities now admit that it may take the average student five years to earn a degree rather than four. But the "nonqualifier" or "partial qualifier", stigmatized by the classification from the start, must actually do better academically than his fully qualified peers to receive maximum eligibility. Is this a mistake or part of a plan?

Junior College athletes are treated in a mixed fashion by the NCAA as well. On the one hand, JC's are allowed to transfer to four-year colleges and participate in sports, as if they were wanted and treated as equals. However, they are not allowed to transfer, regardless of the number of hours of college credit earned, unless they obtain a specific degree from their junior college first. They may have proven themselves academically and thus worthy of being treated as equals with peers recruited straight out of high school. But they must also obtain a degree from junior college even if that degree has little if anything to do with their ultimate career path.

Common sense suggests that junior college athletes would be best suited by entering their universities in the spring, especially in sports like football that have spring practice. It would allow them to acclimate both to the academic rigors and the complexities of their sport prior to the fall season. But the only junior college athletes who can transfer at mid year are those who could have attended universities straight out of high school. Those who might need junior college to prepare them for a university are punished for their efforts by restricting their freedom to transfer to four-year colleges. Is this a mistake or part of a plan?

The Big 10, in its infinite wisdom, went even farther for awhile and required junior college athletes to remain ineligible for a full year after transferring. They claimed it was to help these athletes acclimate to the university setting, but it seemed like additional punishment to most. It took awhile, but heavy pressure from athletic departments within the Big 10 finally got them to rescind this draconian requirement. After all, other conferences had a recruiting advantage since no junior college athlete wanted to waste a year in the Big 10. But even then, the Big 10 only relented once it was obvious that no other major conferences would go along with them. Another accident, or a continuation and expansion of a trend?

The one thing all these rules and regulations have in common is their seeming punative nature toward the athlete who is not also an outstanding student. Many wonder how the NCAA could so consistently misunderstand the needs of the student athlete, especially all those great athletes who make universities money but are academic risks. To me, a better question is why it is so hard for most people to understand the needs, desires, and tendencies of the people who work within the NCAA hierarchy? We must understand them to understand their grand plan.

To understand NCAA leaders, it is necessary to understand the indirect mind. This can be difficult for athletes, their coaches and fans because it is the exact opposite of how they do business. Even though we all have both direct and indirect parts to our brains and use both daily, sports is ultimately a left-brain, direct activity.

In athletics, one wins on merit, with the best rewarded for their direct accomplishments. One puts a ball in a basket, scores a touchdown, tackles, blocks, etc., all direct activities. Evaluations of athletic results are done through statistics and other logical, left-brained thought processes. Money is donated by alumni and applied directly to the costs of maintaining athletic scholarships and athletic department budgets. You win, you get a raise; you lose, you get fired. Pretty straightforward stuff. Everyone understands the rules, and direct action is taken toward those who break the rules or can't compete in a fair, open market.

However, one does not necessarily become a college president, chancellor or faculty representative through merit. Sure, most are highly successful academically, but they don't have to be. In fact, most obtain their jobs through the indirect methods of coalition-building and politics. It is ultimately a subjective decision of a school board, Board of Trustees, or faculty search committee that chooses university leaders. And these decision-makers are either appointed or voted to their positions via a politicized process.

Politics is not a direct brain activity. Rather, it is an indirect process whereby one can supercede the rules of merit to receive an appointment that will be compatible with the political leanings of those making the hirings. Winners of the political process are adept at more creative, subjective, indirect activities whereby they say what they think people want to hear rather than prove their value in a more direct fashion. One who is adept at indirectness is usually extremely clever and creative, using his right brain to charm his audiences and sell his concepts while always keeping his real agendas hidden.

Such a person rarely if ever gives a direct order to his subordinates, preferring to give hints they interpret as orders or giving threats if it is not carried out. Thus, he can always later take personal credit if the subordinate succeeds in his task or deny that he gave such an order if failure results. This is called plausible deniability, and it is a major reward to encourage indirectness.

If I am confusing in this description, I apologize. Part of the problem with describing indirectness is that one is trying to use a direct, logical language to describe an indirect process. Indirectness comes more from the feeling, emotional, intuitive part of our nature where nuance and subtlety are preferred over directness. But perhaps a couple examples of indirect people and their behavior will aid in understanding.

A classic example of an indirect leader was former President Richard Nixon. He was an accomplished politician, but he was so indirect he could never make himself admit directly that he was guilty of the charges against him even though they were sufficient to force his resignation. And he could never make a direct apology. All he could do was imply that his resignation made the necessary statements for him.

Nixon was incapable of making a direct statement even when it would have saved his career and his presidency. Most people at the time agreed that he could have gained public sympathy if he admitted his mistakes and asked forgiveness. But even then, he continued to fabricate one story after another, to the point where even his staunchest supporters realized he was lying. It was truly like Pinocchio, and Nixon's nose (symbolically) continued to grow with every lie because he was spinning in a circle with no direct techniques available to extricate himself from his plight.

As another example, Myles Brand used an indirect technique to relieve Bobby Knight of his coaching job at Indiana. No one in charge at Indiana wanted to fire Knight directly because of the promised backlash from Knight and his followers. Those school administrators were afraid of him and allowed him to behave in extreme ways without major punishment, even though they tired of all the bad publicity and secretly hoped to find a way to remove him.

Brand did not fire Knight directly either but worked behind the scenes to create a contract in which Knight had to agree to a series of behavior limitations, any one of which could result in his termination. Knight wanted to keep his job, and he arrogantly assumed he was immune to being fired, so he signed the contract. But the contract was so vague that most any of a litany of typical Knight acts would trigger his dismissal.

And that is what happened. The actual act that led to final termination was rather tame by Knight's standards. But when it happened, Myles Brand could legally state that he had no choice but to carry out the dictates of the contract and ask for Knight's dismissal. He was not firing him directly, he was just carrying out the wishes of the contract and washing his hands of the whole affair.

See the cleverness of the plan in action? Brand deflected some personal blame while appearing to get the credit for standing up to the bully. Brand didn't stand up to anyone, he just gave Knight enough rope and let him hang himself. I have no doubt that his success at eliminating Knight helped Brand acquire the plum job he has now.

Indirect leaders are notorious for coming up with creative slogans that will appeal to the masses while disguising their real intent. They will appear to offer special opportunities that appeal to those who don't read between the lines. I won't offer examples here, but you need look no farther than any political campaign to find numerous ones. The more grandiose the phrase sounds, the more likely it is designed to hide a plan that is an exact opposite of that stated.

Politicians and academics alike love to package their plans in creative banners, in the hope it will help them get their way. And I might add the procedure is extremely effective as a majority of people are quick to believe every slogan that offers them what they think they want. They don't usually take the time to dissect the plan, looking beyond its grand promises to the actual inner workings described only in the fine print or couched in riddles.

Getting back to the real agenda of the NCAA, it is easy to pretend that they truly care about student athletes and wish them to succeed academically. After all, that is their stated purpose. It is also their purpose to punish those schools who take shortcuts and try to recruit athletes who lack an academic commitment. Everyone wants these things, don't they?

But is that their real agenda? Historically, a number of university administrators tend to be academic elitists. Do you really think these elitists are open-hearted educators who want the disadvantaged to rise up and succeed academically and maybe end up competing for their jobs? I don't think so. In fact, I think a majority of them would rather return to simpler times when academic issues were unpublicized and limited only to other academic elite.

Looking back at Proposition 48 and similar NCAA legislation, if we assume their real desire is to eliminate poorly-qualified student-athletes without exposing possible racial or intellectual bias, then their policies begin to make some sense. I think they were smart enough from the start to know their rules were punative. I think they wanted to scare the universities within their organization out of recruiting those who were academic risks. And I believe they were emboldened by the realization that they were continuing the appearance of taking the higher ground so their own bias would not show. This is prime indirect behavior, and I say they were smart enough to use this creativity to personal advantage.

I realize some athletes were motivated to improve their study habits as a result of NCAA rule changes, and some high schools were forced to do a better job of offering curriculae that would help their athletes become eligible for college scholarships. I also realize that some athletes and especially some universities found new ways of cheating so as to circumvent the rules in their constant attempt to compete on the battlefields of college athletes. And I realize that I cannot prove my contentions regarding the hidden agenda of the NCAA because they keep no records of their private deliberations, shred any documents necessary to protect their position, and never make direct statements in public that would incriminate themselves.

But the only common thread in all their rule-making is a continuing attempt to discriminate against those athletes at bottom rungs of the academic ladder. Ideally, I believe it is the NCAA's wish that the only student-athletes to attend their institutions are those with high college entrance exam results and high grade-point averages. I also believe they do not care about those who have proven time and again that they can compete academically if only their early background had prepared them better for the challenge and the entrance exams were not culturally biased.

They want to maintain the image of academic eliteism with them as the primary movers and shakers. And the latest legislation again provides this false facade. Frankly, I believe they care more about the notion they are legislating against mediocrity than the practical application of that notion. As long as they don't hear about the misuse of the system, they can go along their merry way pretending to be miracle workers. And they simply presume that all academicians will see things the same way and take over control of their own universities' athletic departments. This has never happened before and won't happen now, but they are in denial on this reality as well.

Of course, the leaders within the NCAA don't really want to lose any money from TV and other sources. But they do believe they will continue to be popular and rich even if universities end up competing with mediocre athletes. This is where their deception becomes self-defeating. If they are truly able to eliminate those who are athletes first and students second, they will lose many of their best athletes, especially in the cash cows of football and basketball. In the long run, the general public might be less willing to fork over all the cash that presently lines NCAA pockets. But onward they climb toward that ultimate paradox, with no long-term insight into the true complexity of the situation.

For as Brumbaugh described so specifically last week, universities will find all sorts of ways to cheat. Not all of them, of course, but enough to create the perception of hypocrisy that has evolved with each previous major legislation. And some of those cheaters will be represented within the NCAA by the very academicians who helped to plan the legislation.

Remember the salary cap in the National Basketball Association? The owners (i.e. administrators) demanded limits on salary inflation to protect the poorer teams. Then, some of those same owners discovered creative loopholes in their own laws that allowed them to break the salary cap. They didn't really want all the rules, they just wanted the public to think they wanted them. Sound familiar?

If the NCAA truly succeeds in carrying out its hidden agenda, it might end up destroying college athletics as we presently know it. I envision the creation of professional minor leagues in both football and basketball where top athletes can learn and develop in preparation for a professional career and bypass college altogether. And I envision the NCAA leaders bemoaning the loss of all the income they used to derive from their athletic competitions. After all, who wants to pay to see mediocrity?

Of course, by then it will be too late. Once they kill off the "goose that laid the golden egg", they won't be able to bring it back to life again. But I really don't think they have thought that far ahead. Do you?

Go Illini!


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