The sanctions that the NCAA meted out against Penn State for covering up Jerry Sandusky's abuse of children were inadequate because they didn't do much of anything to correct the unhealthy culture that permeates big-time college sports everywhere. Even in Madison.
My alma mater is generally regarded as a serious academic institution and a progressive one. So UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward or University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly should regain control of the UW Athletic Department.
Here's how they could start:
- Order the Wisconsin football program not to recruit any players from the current Penn State squad. The team shouldn't benefit from Penn State's punishment. In a sense, if they did recruit any transfers, the Badgers would be benefiting from the suffering of Sandusky's victims.
- Establish a rule that when current contracts expire, no one in the athletic program can be paid more than the chancellor.
- Take down the statues of Barry Alvarez and Pat Richter that stand outside Camp Randall. It's not that Alvarez and Richter are bad guys, but the statues are powerful symbols of misplaced reverence. Football is a game, not a religion.
And here's the big one. It's what the NCAA would do if its president Mark Emmert wanted to make good on his statement that, "football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people." That's quite a sweeping declaration, and one that cannot possibly be true unless action is taken to fundamentally reform the entire system, not just punish Penn State.
The NCAA should have a simple rule: If you play college football, basketball or hockey, you can't ever play professionally. That would be the simple condition of participating in NCAA sports.
Here's what that rule would probably accomplish:
- The NFL would have to develop its own farm system, just like baseball. Right now, the NFL reaps hundreds of millions of dollars in annual benefits to have universities develop their players. The NFL teams should pay for that themselves.
- From the fans perspective, they'd still see fun and competitive football, because most of the players would remain the same. Of the 9,000 or so young men who play college football each year, only about 215 (2.4%) make it to the NFL. Let's say for the sake of argument that twice that many think they have a shot and decide to go into the NFL's new farm system. That still means that you'd see 95% of players continue to participate in college football. Except now they'd really be student athletes.
- Because the future superstars would be playing in the NFL farm system, ticket prices could be cut and television revenues would probably be less lucrative. There would still be money in college sports. Coaches and athletic directors would still be well-compensated and revenues would be produced for other sports. But the ever-increasing money balloon would burst and come back down to earth.
Because the NCAA made sweeping statements about reform but attacked the problem only at Penn State, it's an almost dead certainty that we'll be back to the mess as usual in a matter of days. But Wisconsin has the power to at least partially reform its system and produce a more healthy culture here. It should.