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The NCAA's "Stalinist ways"

Earlier this week, the NCAA ruled Jeremy Bloom ineligible to play football for receiving endorsements from skiing. SI columnist Michael Bradley is not impressed with the decision:

Thanks to another brutally close-minded decision Tuesday by the NCAA, Bloom was declared ineligible for this season and beyond for accepting sponsorship dollars needed to fund his training for the '06 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

After NCAA president Myles Brand spewed platitudes about how he wanted the organization to be more athlete-friendly under his regime, Brand and his stooges went back to their old, Stalinist ways designed to restrict student-athlete freedom. Is it any wonder that men's college basketball players are leaving school after one season and their football counterparts are fighting to be sprung early, too? Why toil for schools that are part of an organization which chases the almighty buck shamelessly, all the while fighting to limit the rights of the players who generate the dough?

Bradley makes a decent case against the decision, but to me, it actually makes sense. Clearly, allowing Bloom to participate while receiving endorsements would pave the way for others. The courts are unlikely to allow a rule which lets Bloom get paid, but not the stud running back. So the NCAA, quite sensibly, drew a legally defensible line here. It also makes economic sense as well.

In my view, the purpose of big-time NCAA athletics is to provide national advertising for the institutions (see slides 10-14 from this lecture for more on the idea). For example, few people in Illinois or Maryland would know about Clemson University in the absence of its sports programs. A good sports program helps put a school on the national map, and this benefits its students.

With this in mind, consider the effects of the alternative decision in the Bloom case. Allowing star players to cash in on endorsements - the end result of caving in on Bloom - would shift the spotlight from the institution to the individual. Big-time sports would lose their punch as a promotional tool for the Universities. Like it or not, the NCAA's decision protects this method of image-building.