It seems like everything the
does is like a coin: It has two sides. And, as always with the NCAA, on one side there is something right and on the other is something very, very wrong.
Even as the NCAA got a first-hand look at this phenomenon, courtesy of a $67 million judgement against it in a federal court last week for violation of antitrust laws, the association which rules all our college sports did it again.
There is a new rule that will go into effect during the next scholastic year that allows students on athletic scholarships to take paying jobs and earn up to $2,000 per year from coaches, athletic departments and "athletic interests."
Before it's even been implemented, it seems the NCAA is bound to rue the day it came up with this one.
This bears some explaining, but first more about the $67 million that a federal jury in Kansas awarded last Monday to 1,900 assistant coaches in a class-action suit. The cause of the suit was a 1992 rule implemented by the NCAA that created the position of "restricted-earnings coach."
The new position replaced the "part-time coach" spot with a regulated post and was supposed to be geared toward making the playing field level between big programs and small ones. It dictated that the third assistant coach on, say, a men's basketball team only be allowed to earn a total of $16,000 each year. That would be $12,000 for being a coach and $4,000 more for work at summer camps. And a person holding the title "restricted-earnings coach" would only be allowed to wear it five years; then either get a full-time spot or leave the coaching world.
In concept, there was substance to the move. Given the comparative budgets of a
(a tiny Division I school in Staten Island, N.Y.), it made some sense. Kentucky's program has the kind of revenue that would allow it a coaching staff where everyone makes at least $75,000. Wagner's doesn't. In this way, the big boys would be prevented from stockpiling the best basketball minds and there could be a trickle-down effect.
But where the NCAA got it all wrong was fixing the incomes. It's completely un-American. And it's the reason they've been ordered to pay the 1,900 assistant coaches such a whopping sum.
"All I could think of when I heard about the rule was
in China," said Tim O'Toole, who was recently named head coach at
. "It was completely socialist. No matter how many hours you worked, no matter how good a job you did, you would never make more than that."
Being a restricted-earnings coach was no easy proposition. Living on $16,000 is easier said than done. O'Toole was a restricted-earnings coach with
for two years and then with
for two years. At Syracuse he had to live in an unheated building during one snow belt winter. "I never realized how cold Syracuse was until then," he said.
And when he felt like he was learning the most about the game, at Duke, O'Toole had to leave and take a job as a full-time assistant at
; he knew that he could only stay one more year at Duke, and he had to take the full-time opportunity when it appeared.
O'Toole was one of the coaches who testified before that jury in Kansas, and, when he heard of the judgement against the NCAA, he called it bittersweet. "A lot of good people had to leave the business of coaching because of that rule,'' he said.
One can only wonder what kind of courtroom awaits this new NCAA rule.
Under the new rule, scholarship athletes will be allowed to earn up to $2,000 each year in jobs they get through coaches, the athletic department or "athletic interests." For your information, the third of those three is the acceptable phrasing of the word "booster."
Does anybody at the NCAA remember when boosters were the scourge of college sports? How many times have we heard the stories. An athlete got a car from a booster. An athlete got plane fare from a booster. An athlete got cash under the table from a booster. And these boosters have caused plenty of ruckus in recruiting, too. Many a booster has landed college programs on probation.
Now the NCAA is inviting contact between boosters and athletes? It's astounding stuff.
Of course, there is some merit to the new rule, called
. Colleges and universities often make a mint off their athletes when they perform in the public eye. It's not just gate receipts either, but also television money and merchandising.
Even though they already are getting a free education worth maybe $120,000, it makes a lot of sense for the jocks to get a little spending money.
One can see a lot of ways a rule like Prop 62 could benefit all concerned. Other students are allowed to hold work-study jobs and the like. By allowing athletes to do it, they get treated just like everyone else.
By making it legal for the boosters to put cash in the pockets of the jocks, maybe the NCAA is hoping it can regulate illegal transactions that have run rampant. After all, studies show that Americans drank more liquor during the days of prohibition than when it was legal.
The possibility also exists that giving the athletes some spending money will prevent other embarrassing situations. Many scholarship athletes grow up in environments where they have little or no money for themselves. Could it be we'll see a drop in criminal behavior among this part of the college population if they have a little to go out with? Perhaps it's the end of stolen phone credit cards and
-style muggings, complete with samurai swords.
Now turn the coin.
Do you honestly think we aren't a heartbeat away from these jobs playing a factor in recruiting? Just wait until you hear about Jimmy, who chose
not only because he would have a chance to start at tailback, but also because he could do a university-provided job in his dorm room.
How long will it be before we all discover that a lot these jobs are shams? Boomer mows the booster's lawn for $200. Lefty gets to do deliveries for the booster's company in the company Lexus.
And let's not forget about the boosters who are going to be available to provide these jobs. When was the last time you heard about a booster obeying the rules? As a type, they are the ones who take the mile when you give them an inch. Prop 62 is custom-made for such indiscretions.
The "restricted-earnings coach" rule turned out to be a fiasco. The NCAA said it will appeal the decision, but seems destined to have to pay $67 million. Prop 62 could end up costing the association even more: the last shreds of its integrity.
Roger Rubin has covered sports in the New York area for the past 10 years. He currently is a staff writer for the New York Daily News
, covering high school and college sports. He appreciates your feedback at