Then NCAA is “there for the athletes on the field and off,” or at least that’s what their commercials want us to believe. So if we take this at face value, the NCAA should theoretically have rules that help athletes, not punish them for violations at every turn. Mark Emmert and company would probably use the slippery slope argument that giving athletes some freedom would result in a total overthrow of the system. Knowing these two facts, let’s take a look at some recent NCAA “violations,” to see just how that system is working for students.
The first rule everyone who even kind of follows the college sports is sure to have heard of was the old “cream cheese rule.” In what started off as what looked like a minor win for college athlete compensation, colleges were permitted to provide fruits, nuts and bagels to student athletes at any time according to a 2009 rule change. That was great and all except for the fact they were not allowed to give cream cheese or other spreads to go along with said bagels. This created a situation where a school that provided cream cheese with bagels actually committed an NCAA violation. No problem, they’d amend that rule quickly, right? Well you would think so, but it in fact took until 2012 to amend the rule allowing spreads on bagels.
One would think at that point they likely just loosened these silly restrictions across the board. Well the NCAA doesn’t work in that way. They seem to like to wait for vast public outcries, then just make as minor of a change as possible to patch that dam of public outrage that is about ready to burst.
That brings us to probably my favorite NCAA rules violation of all time. Last year the NCAA fined a University of Portland golfer $20 for washing her car. It’s okay if you have to read that sentence a couple times for that to sink in. The NCAA ruled that it was a violation because “a normal student wouldn’t have had access to the same hose,” and thus she had to pay back the value of the water(!) plus the value of being able to use the hose.
I can just see the recruiting pitches now: “Come to Portland, we’ll let you wash your car for free!” I mean that’s why they have these rules, right? So that schools can’t get an unfair advantage over other schools by offering something to athletes that said other schools don’t offer?
Even more recently, we saw “Pasta-Gate,” unfold at Oklahoma. The Sooners had a graduation buffet, and apparently feared that a few kids took too much advantage of the buffet aspect of the event. They went back for seconds (or more), of this pasta. While this one ended up not being an NCAA violation, the fear that the school might have committed one led the school to force three athletes to pay up the grand sum of $3.83. After the anti-cream cheese era, and other incidents like the car wash case, it’s kind of hard to blame school for fining the athletes and self-reporting this as a violation.
This brings us back to the NCAA’s stated mission of “being for student athletes on and off the court.” While the NCAA has made some strides in helping player safety on the court, it has a distance to go in working to help students off the field of play. While the NCAA surely fears that some school will offer 4 and 5 star meals to 4 and 5 star athletes without any restriction, there’s a long way between where they are now and that fear. The NCAA, currently struggling mightily in both the legal courts and the court of public opinion could surely help their image some by just loosening up a little on the inane, insane tiny rule violations.