The Lombardo Trophy: Deconstructing the NCAA’s “common sense”

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On Nov. 12, 1999, the 106th United States Congress enacted the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act. It repealed many provisions of the 1933 Banking Act, or Glass-Steagall Act, which limited commercial banking activities and enforced a separation between commercial banks and securities trading firms.

In reality, though, the practices outlined by the 1999 act had been the norm for years; financial institutions openly flouted Glass-Steagall’s rules and rarely, if ever, faced repercussions. Upon the 1999 act’s passage, Sen. Phil Gramm underscored the need to change existing law because “it made about as much sense to continue to impose (it) on people as it did to ask a man to wear the same clothes he did when he was a child.”

Fast forward 14 years, and change the government to the NCAA. On Jan. 19, its Board of Directors “streamlined” its rulebook for recruiting. Among the changes: the elimination of restrictions on methods of communication with recruits, the elimination of restrictions on sending printed materials to recruits and the removal of the limit on the number of coaches who can recruit off campus at any one time.

The changes codify recruiting transgressions the NCAA currently only halfheartedly attempts to police; allegations of impropriety are rampant, yet it penalizes only a fraction of the accused. When announcing the changes, NCAA President Mark Emmert declared, “These new rules represent noteworthy progress toward what can only be described as more common sense rules that allow schools more discretion in decision-making.”

Here, the NCAA, much like the U.S. government in the late ’90s and early 2000s, has decided that it is much easier to change laws than to enforce them. And much as the repeal of Glass-Steagall led to a bonanza for the banks, so too will college coaches reap the benefits of unfettered access to the rich field of recruits. Both decisions invoked common sense. But who exactly is this common sense designed to benefit? Those in power or those who will be subject to the advances of the until-recently restrained powers?

It doesn’t take tarot cards to see who comes out on top in this. Millions of U.S. citizens placed their trust in the newly formed megabanks like Citigroup and Bank of America but were ultimately betrayed.

Colleges, of course, can’t destroy personal savings in the same way as a bank. But let’s not forget that universities offer a similar fundamental promise. Invest in us, they say, and we’ll give you something better in a couple years.

So college coaches and their support staffs will now be able to prey indiscriminately on every high school kid with half a chance of making their roster. Top recruits will receive literally hundreds of text and Facebook messages every week. No one disputes that this will lead to chaos — except, of course, the clods at the NCAA, who probably think “A Modest Proposal” was a serious plan. Which might actually be true, because this rule change will consume more than a few teenagers.

College athletics administrations have been skating around the edges of the rules of the current system for years. It won’t take recruiters long to start pushing the boundaries yet again. So the real question becomes not, “How will this play out?” but, “How long will it take for things to fall apart?” Which presents another lesson the NCAA could learn from the financial sector’s collapse: The U.S. government has spent recent years restrengthening the laws it once neglected to enforce. Why would the NCAA want to go through that process when it could simply administer its rules from the beginning?

Contact Jordan Bach-Lombardo at [email protected].