The NCAA is Kodak – and the Knight Commission is MySpace

I watched all the proceedings for the half-day of Knight Commission ‘hearings’ in Washington on October 30. These people are lost at sea.


Arne Duncan

The recent basketball indictments told Mark Emmert that he’s been heading up a rudderless organization, which is now jet-skiing around its harbor, making churn and a big wake, with no direction home. The NCAA is Kodak: 25 years ago, it dominated an entire market, and its producers and consumers were happy to have the NCAA leading the way. Kodak is now shut down. Rochester lost 15,000 workers, because Kodak failed to anticipate the future, and whiffed at any opportunity to radically remake itself.

Radically Re-made Itself

IBM radically re-made itself. Twice. And it wasn’t Thos. Watson the first who did it. It was Junior who forced his father’s outfit to remake itself. Sons of great achievers usually despoil their father’s product, but Thos. Watson, Jr, instead, rammed change down the throat of his father’s blue-ribbon market leader — twice. And each time, it became a radically better organization.

The recent basketball indictments told the Knight Commission that they have been whiffing for years now, so that Knight is now MySpace: old and not even in the way. Irrelevant. Spinning its wheels. Look at the videos of their meeting. They are at a podium, still talking about decimal points on grade-point averages. Clueless.

And the Knight Commission has climbed in bed with an entirely mercantile trade group — LEAD1, the collection of buccaneers who call themselves Athletic Directors, but are panting to engage in influence-peddling in Washington, all in secret, without the kind of transparency and openness which should attend their every move in their capacities as public (mostly) university AD’s.

Somehow, for example, we are told, by some fellow (extraordinarily bright) who used to be an athletic director, but has been assigned — by LEAD1, in concert with the NCAA — to prepare a secret summary as to how some NCAA schools can enter into a joint venture of some sort for purchasing better player health insurance, that he cannot tell us with any explicitness what he has been doing.

But — get this — this fellow shows up and says: 1) we really haven’t finished our work; but 2) we can’t tell you anything about what our work has concluded, anyway, because it “needs to be vetted” by the LEAD 1 members. LEAD1 and the NCAA, apparently, cannot trust any other stakeholders to be involved with developing some position on this issue — better health insurance for players. The NCAA and LEAD1, both private outfits, will bless the rest of those stakeholders with some input when NCAA and LEAD1 have decided what is right, proper, and suitable for those others.

But note what this private citizen, hired by two private outfits (NCAA and LEAD1) did and did not say.  He seemed to endorse, first of all, the current ethic among AD’s and athletic departments, to shop for health coverage based solely upon a lowest-cost standard!  And he said this with a straight face, as though no one could ever argue for some other standard for measuring the need for, and advisability of purchasing, decent health coverage for players (particularly in football) who encounter staggering risk of physical injury, with every play!

The man went on to describe the extraordinary difficulties associated with ‘pooled’ purchasing, among all D-1 schools, of suitable health coverage for players — as if this was the only possible option for retaining such coverage.

But this was not the primary defect in his presentation, because it was devoid of moral, public health, or other principle. Nowhere (and he presumably was speaking on behalf of all those AD’s and former AD’s, all members of a trade group) was there any articulation of some fundamental moral or public policy principle.

What do I mean? If this head of this private, still-secret NCAA/LEAD1 effort had any moral compass, he would’ve told that august assemblage there in D.C. (and all of us who watched the stream) that no school with gross football receipts more than — what? — $1 million? — maybe $10 million — should ever be allowed to avoid providing the complete cost of top-notch health coverage for their football players.

(And excellent means: 1) the school, not player (or family) assumes all cost; 2) the tail provides coverage for at least five years after departure from play at that school.)

Nope. No such statement of principle. Nothing. No consideration of the player’s point of view. Instead, the entire presentation revolved around what the school might possibly afford — using the NCAA and school wacky measure for what is affordable.

This story is not told solely to illustrate the abject lack of moral compass at LEAD1, the NCAA, and the Knight Commission. Or solely to illustrate the extent to which the Knight Commission has become MySpace, left in the dust of events which have long passed.  No. It is also told to illustrate more clearly why the Knight Commission is MySpace.

Created 25 years ago, the Knight Commisison has no idea what is necessary.  So I will suggest what the Knight Commission needs to do to re-invent itself, just as IBM did.

The next meeting, get rid of the silk-tie guys who don’t matter. Invite the Big-Shoes — Nike, Adidas, and UnderArmour, who have colonized colleges sports during the precise 25 years during which Knight Commission has existed. Invite the TV networks, and the conferences, both of whom are mere media-traders, who have also colonized college sports during the precise 25 years since Knight Commission has been created. Force them to discuss issues. Hold their feet to the fire. One tiny example: do either of these behemoths who now reside, figuratively, there at the 50-yard line of every game, have some interest and willingness to fund health coverage for the player-billboards who are the major producers in their electronic or digital, nation-wide promotion-factory?

But also, and more importantly, because no one on the Knight Commission gets this:  invite players.

More important — and this is the most important element: pay for and invite a truly independent person to work for and represent the big-time players who are responsible for the tsunami of money which has flooded college sports just since the Knight Commission was created in the early 1990’s. That independent person might be Alan Sack. Maybe Attorney Rick Johnson. Economist Rod Fort. Economist Andy Schwarz. David Ridpath. Attorney David Vaughn. Ellen Staurovsky. Richard Southall. Attorney Roe Frazer. Ted Tatos. Chris Borland. Attorney Marc Edelman. Ramogi Huma. You have plenty of choices. You have plenty of money. And none of it, Knight Commission, has gone to protect the major producer in the very system you purport to monitor: the player.

Knight Commission: You are MySpace. Passe. Get with it. The indictments made a fool of you. Time to give voice to the player. Time to radically re-make yourself.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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