Last Night's Winner: Dumb, Vaguely Crooked Proposals To Preserve Our Quaint Ideal Of Amateurism

The hot new idea being bruited by the Coalition Of People Who Take Amateurism Seriously (Sponsored by Nike) is to levy "post-NCAA financial penalties" on professional players who ran around with agents during college, which is like the whorehouse fining the whore.

Which is to say that it's a terrible idea, and on so many levels. On the most basic one, imagine losing your job over an embroidered expense account and having to pay a fine at your next one. More than that, it represents the sort of frank collusion that would get laughed out of the federal courts (provided the NFLPA isn't so foolish as to codify it in the next collective bargaining agreement). It's dumb, and it's crooked, and it's precisely what you'd expect from a group comprising the following people: the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, the NFL's vice president of football operations, the NFL's director of football operations, the president of the Falcons, the president of the Colts, the American Football Coaches Association's executive director, the Big Ten's commissioner, the SEC's commissioner, the SEC's associate commissioner, Oregon's director of football operations, an attorney from the office of Texas's secretary of state, three agents, some assorted NCAA narcs, and a couple fellows from the NFLPA who were there to pay lip service. Note that there are no players — current or former — at the table, and unless you count the agents and the NFLPA, there is no group representing the interests of the people whose future earnings are at stake here: college players. (Inviting the NCPA would've been a nice start.)

The proposal itself is bad enough; what's worse is that the issue is still being framed sanctimoniously as one of dirty players and the wicked agents who prey on them ("the complex issue of improper agent activity," as the NCAA's press release puts it). Witness the response to Josh Luchs's revelatory tell-all in Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago. Within a day or two, an examination of the essential deformities of the NCAA turned into another dumb parlor game of "which player scored how much boodle from whom?"

The issue isn't the agents and their "improper activity," nor is it the players and their open palms. "Naughty, naughty player took some shit from scheming agents," is how these scandals are invariably presented, when in truth the story is, "Easily and often-broken rules governing amateurism broken yet again for reasons having to do with incentive structures in a black-market economy." In a rickety system like the NCAA's, built on an ethic of amateurism that was unworkable even when the Victorians tried it, well, Josh Luchs will happen, and he and his former colleagues will go on happening so long as there's a gulf between an amateur athlete's value and his earnings. The reformers aren't out to fix the system, though; they're merely coming up with ways to hide the cracks.