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Gene Collier: NCAA system isn't broken now — it always has been

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In this photo from December 30, 2021, Jordan Addison of the Pittsburgh Panthers makes a catch against the Michigan State Spartans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi appears likely to lose his best returning player, wide receiver Jordan Addison, who has entered the transfer portal.

PITTSBURGH — No one has ever described the NCAA's transfer portal from the inside, but assuming you can get Wi-Fi and maybe free continental breakfast, there's no telling how long it will be until Jordan Addison is transported to his next college football address.

Addison was the best pass catcher at Pitt since Larry Fitzgerald until early last week, when he was sucked into the transfer portal in a moment that shook the foundation of the sport, such as it is. It's not as though he went kicking and screaming, because presumably he'll turn up at a school in better proximity to larger payouts for use of his name, image, and likeness (NIL), or maybe because, in the transfer portal, no one can hear you scream.

Football coaches and the college administrators who approve their obscene salaries are reacting as though they've awakened on some post-apocalyptic hell scape where someone or something other than themselves and their own oleaginous boosters and sycophants are controlling the players. Their howling is downright hilarious. Coaches are the most duplicitous of the characters in this melodrama, as it's common for coaches to break contracts and switch schools for better money, but the administrators are having a complete nervous breakdown, with some even taking their fresh psychosis to Washington.

Washington, D.C.?

Yes, they're serious.

"I think it's more likely we eventually get federal legislation on name, image and likeness, but we're also interested in discussing all of the harm that will come to student-athletes if they are deemed to be employees," Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told ESPN this week. "Either the NCAA is going to get its act together in enforcing this — [HAHAHAHAHA!] — or I'm going to be pushing for a smaller group to figure out how to create and enforce the NIL rules that we all agree on related to inducement and pay-for-play. The amount of an NIL payment should be commensurate with the work done as a backstop to make sure we're not using it related to inducement and pay-for-play."

Good luck with that, George. By the way, what is the name of the planet you inhabit currently?

The Jordan Addisons of the real world and, way more importantly, the shameless money that is chasing them are already so far beyond the issues you describe there's no metric to illuminate it.

The courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States by a vote of 9-0, effectively eliminated any such restrictive action by the NCAA, which never showed much stomach for enforcement, anyway. All pretense on this is suddenly flagrant anachronism. High school kids are said to be fielding six- and seven-figure offers from the usual suspects, the universities who've long savaged the NCAA's rules so that they got richer and poorer schools poorer.

You want to tell Washington about that? Washington invented that system, not for football but for life, twisted it to the exact specifications of the moneyed, sustains it, revels in it.

I asked my friend Rob Ruck, the Pitt historian who cares passionately about sports and academia's discomfiting role in it, where he saw all of this going. The parentheses are his:

"NIL and the portal accelerated these trends in college sport where the elite become even more elite," he emailed. "There's already an arms race in facilities and coaching staffs, which is creating a widening gap among schools. But the combination of NIL and the portal is lethal [think about the interaction of free agency and salary arbitration in baseball]. With both NIL and the portal, kids can bolt and get paid for it [and now it's cash on the table instead of under it]. And for many fans, being able to like the players matters. If you don't like them, why watch?

"I think the more that happens, the less people will care about the NCAA and college sport. If that leads to the dissolution of college sport as we know it, it might be a chance for the 'academy' to rebuild its sporting life. Europe offers a very different model built around sports clubs, sport schools, and academies."

Ever since Groucho Marx, playing the Dean of Huxley College, set about recruiting football players in a speakeasy ("Horsefeathers," 1932), college football has been the preferred arena of people with poor math skills. Consider that today, when America has about 1 million high school players, 6% will play in college, and 1% of those will be drafted by the NFL. Yet this week you see an entire ecosystem re-jiggering itself to make life better for aspirants to that 1%.

Sound familiar?

Whatever has to happen for universities to walk back toward their original purpose — not national championships, but plain old ignorance abatement — I'm for that.

Washington's got more than enough people who can't spell as it is.

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