Philadelphia, PA – There is no question the NCAA's reputation has taken a serious hit the last several years, as significant scandals are popping up with unprecedented frequency.
High-profile programs Miami-Florida, USC, Ohio State and Penn State have all been heavily disciplined recently, and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel found himself in hot water over the summer, but as the past week has shown us, the NCAA has barely scratched the surface in solving its widespread problem of corruption and wrong-doing.
The first ball to drop during a busy, tumultuous week of off-the-field college football news was the Sports Illustrated report citing that Oklahoma State has been apparently been involved in multiple illicit activities dating from 2001-11. The story, which is being unveiled over the course of a five-part series, reveals information gathered from dozens of current and former Cowboys players and coaches accusing the program of paying players for their performance, committing academic fraud, allowing recreational drug use and soliciting sex for recruiting purposes.
Attempting to get out in front of the story, Oklahoma State armed itself earlier in the week with a statement from athletic director Mike Holder, who didn't exactly deny the accusations but instead attempted to temporarily quell the media's suspicions.
"We're all committed to playing by the rules and doing things the right way, and for people to say that is not what's happening is very disturbing," Holder said. "Our goal is to separate fact from fiction, and then we can start dealing with it. We've already notified the NCAA, they're going to assign an investigator and go through the facts. And at the end of the day, we'll come to some conclusions, and we'll deal with those. We'll prop ourselves back up, polish up that OSU brand and move down the road."
If the NCAA's investigation confirms Sports Illustrated's report, Oklahoma State could be in for some of the most severe sanctions in FBS history, but if that weren't enough, another scandal managed to rock the college football landscape just a few days later.
According to a report done by Yahoo Sports, a series of financial and text message records cited five SEC players receiving improper benefits from numerous NFL agents and financial advisors during their collegiate careers. Those named in report were D.J. Fluker from Alabama, Tyler Bray and Maurice Couch from Tennessee, and Fletcher Cox and Chad Bumphis from Mississippi State, although Couch is the only one still playing college football.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban met with the media on Wednesday to discuss the Crimson Tide's highly-anticipated matchup with Texas A&M and, not surprisingly, remained tight-lipped on the situation.
"We've done a lot of investigation about a lot of things," Saban said. "Every time somebody brings something up about our program we investigate it, we do the best we can. There is nobody in this organization that wants to do anything that's not above board and we don't want our players to do it either. That's not what this program was built on, and that's not what we're going to do."
Clearly, the NCAA has its hands full attempting to deal with the fallout of these two breaking stories, but while these developments are certainly noteworthy, neither are particularly shocking. As we've seen several times in recent years, it's nothing new to see programs orchestrating these types of arrangements with their football players, and for every instance that's brought to the surface, you can bet there are dozens more that go undetected.
Of course, the NCAA will need to come to a conclusion on these allegations, but there's ultimately a bigger question at hand: In a landscape that appears to be getting exponentially worse by the day, how do we put a stop to it?
It's no secret that college football is big business, with even the smallest programs bringing in millions of the dollars for their schools. That's why so many players want a piece of the action and why so many programs are willing to put their reputations on the line in order to not only secure the best talent, but to keep that talent as happy as possible. Sure, some punishment has been handed down, but that clearly hasn't put a stop to it, as the rewards in most cases far outweigh the risks.
The biggest point of contention is whether or not these players should be legally compensated for their contributions on the football field. After all, it's their product that generates all the ticket sales, merchandising and television rights. Giving the players a piece of that pie would (in theory, at least) slow down all the shady dealings behind the scenes. On the other hand, however, these players are still simply amateur athletes. Not only do they get to play the game they love, but they get a free college education out of it, something any young adult today would treasure immensely. On top of that, they form immeasurable connections, through alumni and other sources, that can service them for the rest of their lives. Isn't that enough? That answer is obviously no.
While giving players a stipend to play would solve some issues, it would immediately form a strong divide. Which players on which teams deserve monetary compensation for their contribution to the university? And who's to say that it will be enough? Even once players start getting paid, inevitably there will soon be instances where greed sets in, with entitled players heading out in search of even more money, thus starting the vicious cycle all over again.
One solution could be to allow student athletes to pursue payment through personal endeavors such as endorsement deals -- much like Olympians and other amateur athletes. It would certainly be an easier addendum to the NCAA rules than a flat-out payment process, but it still presents plenty of potential obstacles for both the players and the schools, not to mention only a handful of FBS players are recognizable enough to cash in on their personal brand.
In the long run, however, the only way for this problem to go away is for the NCAA to crack down harder and more swiftly than ever before. It has turned a blind eye in the past for its own benefit -- to believe that Sports Illustrated and Yahoo Sports found out about these instances before the NCAA did would be foolish. The NCAA clearly needs more man-power get out in front of these issues, because the way they've been handling the situations recently has done little to prevent future incidents from occurring (the exact opposite, in fact).
One way or another, a complete overhaul of the system is needed, or these problems will never disappear.