- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yes, fresh off the heels of the NCAA's Enforcement Experience -- a mock infractions investigation designed to lend media members insight into the NCAA's enforcement procedures -- comes some rather blunt talk from NCAA president Mark Emmert on the nature of the NCAA's penalties for those who violate its myriad amateurism bylaws.
In short, Emmert is looking into a more nuanced approach in classifying penalties. He's beefing up enforcement staff to make sure more violators are caught. And, perhaps most notably, he wants to make sure the penalties are stiff enough to be prohibitive. The key quotes from last night's Associated Press story tell the story:
"We need to make sure our penalty structure and enforcement process imposes a thoughtful level of concern, and that the cost of violating the rules costs more than not violating them," Emmert said.
[...] "We've made the commitment to provide enforcement with more staff," Emmert said as Lach nodded her head. "Some staff has been added. It isn't really more investigators in the field, but it's freeing up more people to get them out in the field."
[...] "This is my own opinion, but I do worry we have too much of a bivariate model," he said. "I personally would like to see whether we can have two, three or five different sort of categories and maybe that would make the cases go a little more expeditiously."
At least in theory, these are all good ideas. You could argue that the penalties for major and secondary violations are already rather harsh -- especially when coaches are losing jobs over something like excess phone calls and text messages -- but one of the fundamental underpinnings of law and order is that any looming punishment should be enough to at least cause rule-breakers to think twice, and if the current penalties don't do that, then hey, good enough.
There's nothing theoretical about the second plan: If the NCAA wants to catch more violators, it needs more cops on the street, so to speak.
And the third idea makes sense, too. Classifying cheats as either major or secondary isn't the most nuanced system in the world. Introducing a longer and more extensive continuum for what penalties fall where, with categories for distinct types of rules violations, could at least help delineate things a bit. This system would need to be clear-cut and well-defined, but if done well, it could become a serious improvement.
The problem is not with the ideas, which, taken together, seem to come right out of a Law Enforcement Crackdowns 101 textbook. Better laws, more cops, harsher penalties: I'm pretty sure you can trace most of this back to the Code of Hammurabi.
The disagreements here, if you have them, will come because you fundamentally disagree with Emmert on the notion of amateurism in the first place:
"What are you going to pay them? Are you going to pay the quarterback the same as the guy who sits on the bench? Are you going to pay a gymnast the same as a men's basketball player?" Emmert said. "There is a model for that, it's called professional sports, and I love them. But that's not what college sports is about."
If you happen to believe that high-profile, revenue-generating athletes in college football and men's basketball should be paid something in return for the money they make their schools, the BCS, and the NCAA itself, then you'll fundamentally disagree with all of Emmert's penal suggestions. Instead, you'll cite that the NCAA, no matter how harsh the penalties or well-staffed its compliance officers are, will always fall short of its idealistic goals. So long as there is a discrepancy in what players (and, for that matter, coaches) risk and what they stand to gain by gaming the system, the logistics of law enforcement won't matter much.
Even if you believe the NCAA should adopt an Olympic model that allows athletes to hire agents and be paid by third parties without damaging its amateurism ideal -- as John Gasaway so eloquently argued in the 2010-11 College Basketball Prospectus -- you'll probably disagree. But if you instead side with Bylaw Blog's John Infante, who has argued that the third-party way is untenable, you'll see Emmert's suggestions as necessary steps in the right direction.
All of which is fun to argue about. (OK, maybe "fun" isn't the right word. "Interesting" is probably closer.) But the argument doesn't really matter. Emmert has been consistent here; last night's post-Enforcement Experience declarations are no different. Bottom line, he isn't wavering on amateurism. There is no give to his stance. The new NCAA president believes amateurism is a vital aspect of the NCAA's mission -- conjoined with education, it is in many ways the NCAA's sole mission -- and he isn't about to abandon that century-old mission because a few cynics believe it no longer exists.
There are, again, two ways to see this. Either Emmert is nobly sticking to the NCAA's guns, or he's failing to address the fundamental, massive changes high-level college sports have undertaken in the past 30 years. Whatever your viewpoint, Emmert's is clear. And his opinion happens to be the most important.