Robert L. King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, wrote an August 4, 2011, column, “Reform the NCAA Rulebook”, on the Inside Higher Ed website. The piece was initiated on “University of Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari’s recent suggestion about abandoning the National Collegiate Athletic Association and creating a new structure for Division I athletics”. Mr. King noted “for many years [he has] been troubled by the growing disconnect between the NCAA and the athletic programs it is to govern, the students it is to serve, and the fans whose support is vital to the continued viability of intercollegiate sports”. Mr. King predicted “as that gap grows wider, it is inevitable that suggestions like Calipari’s will multiply, and that the future of the NCAA will become clouded”. Mr. King relied on various anecdotal examples to show why the NCAA Manual is too complex and contains unnecessary rules. Mr. King concludes his column by noting “this is not a call for the end of the NCAA. But I do argue that the NCAA needs to rethink its current rule book, and redraft a set of rules that focus on what actually matters: honest competition, the prohibition of performance enhancing substances, fair recruiting practices, and competent and safe treatment of student athletes. All the rest deserves to be trashed”.
I have never been one to be the biggest defenders of the NCAA. I believe several NCAA practices need to be reformed or eliminated, including the enforcement process. However, Mr. King misses one very important factor in his analysis of the NCAA rulebook. Namely, the presidents and athletics administrators he claims are frustrated with NCAA rules are the very ones that make the rules. The “NCAA” is comprised of the member institutions–the colleges, universities and athletics conferences. Representatives of member institutions are appointed to committees and cabinets, which review legislation that is proposed by member institutions. For example, in Division I, legislative proposals that are passed by majority vote in one committee or cabinet are forwarded to the next higher body until it is passed or failed by the Legislative Council and the Board of Directors. Even legislation that passes or fails can be defeated or resurrected subsequently by the membership with an override vote or with the introduction of a legislative proposal. The NCAA staff interprets and enforces the rules the members pass. Essentially, the NCAA practices the core elements of democracy. Thus, I cannot agree with Mr. King’s argument. I have to back the NCAA on this one.