Rules Gone Wild: The Case of the NCAA (by Dwayne Barney and Paul Cleveland)

Throughout time empires, nations, communities,football player institutions, and associations have come and gone. Some last for long periods of time while others flourish for a brief period before withering away. There are perhaps many reasons for the success and failure of human organizations, but one stands out to us as being crucially relevant:  Laws, rules, and regulations tend to multiply over time resulting in top heavy organizations that eventually become detested by those living in subjection to them.  Over the next several weeks we will explore this process by looking at the NCAA as an illustration of this tendency. 

The NCAA provides an interesting case study to analyze the growth of a bureaucracy.  Membership in the Association is voluntary, and the Association’s members are responsible for proposing and voting on any new rules.  A new bylaw becomes binding only after it has been approved by the membership through its established legislative process.  However, even though member institutions are allowed to participate in the development of new bylaws, a large and ever-growing number of malcontents are finding the NCAA and its rules and regulations to be overly burdensome. 

The NCAA routinely investigates universities for violations of its rules governing the member schools’ athletic programs. Within the past several years it has investigated several high-profile football programs to see whether an “extra benefit” was received by either a student-athlete or prospective student-athlete. An NCAA investigation can result in violations and subsequent penalties placed upon the guilty institution if it is determined that extra benefits were provided to athletes. In the past few years the NCAA has investigated Auburn University, The Ohio State University, Boise State University, and the University of Miami to name a few.

On page 1 of its burgeoning manual (2013-2014), the NCAA states that its purpose for existence is the maintenance of a “clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports.” On page 4, it asserts that “student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.” In its attempt to “protect” student-athletes from receiving any extra benefits, the NCAA increasingly attempts to micro-manage the lives of all athletes falling under its rule. Like the federal tax code, as time has gone by rules have expanded to the point of absurdity. For example, a particularly laughable NCAA bylaw (#16.5.2 (h)) asserts that “[a]n institution may provide fruit, nuts and bagels to a student-athlete at any time.”  Following the passing of this bylaw, the question of whether or not cream cheese can accompany the allowed bagel was hotly contested in athletics’ compliance circles.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page