If you’re a college football fan who is worried about the direction of the game, your troubles are over. Help is on the way! State and federal governments are on it.
The feds — in the form of the U.S. Department of Justice — have joined a lawsuit with 11 states against the NCAA. They are attempting to eliminate an NCAA rule that forces undergraduates to sit out a year of competition after a second transfer.
OK, let’s get to the question you’re all asking out of the way: Doesn’t the federal government have better things to do with its time? Nope. The country is sailing along; there are no problems. Everything is good to go. The government busybodies might as well “fix” sports since they’ve run out of other things to do.
Second thing you’re wondering: Wait, the government is involved? I thought we wanted to fix the sport, not make it worse.
When has the government ever stepped into a situation and afterward people looked at the result and said, Gee, thanks! That’s better! Not since the Continental Congress.
It’s never a good thing when government agencies start meddling in sports (or anything else, for that matter). Go ahead and screw up health care, the military and education, but stay out of something really important, like sports.
Politicians are full of chutzpah, if not delusions of grandeur. They have the audacity to think they can fix things in sports that have been broken just about forever — the war on performance-enhancing drugs, the college football playoff system or lack thereof, corruption in FIFA and the IOC. Ultimately, of course, nothing happened. Nothing changed.
So here they are wading into college football’s problems again. Under NCAA rules (what’s left of them), athletes can transfer once without penalty; a second transfer requires them to sit out a year of athletic competition at their new school. The DOJ and the 11 states want to drop the rule altogether. The complaint claims that the NCAA unreasonably restricts college athletes’ freedom to transfer to other schools by restricting their eligibility to participate in sports for a year.
Guilty as charged, but also necessary (and not unreasonable). Athletic leagues and their athletes must necessarily be treated differently, and they are (it’s why sports has been granted antitrust exemptions); athlete movement from team to team must be restricted to promote fair and balanced competition. As I wrote in October 2022, this is why there are salary caps in professional sports, to prevent the richest teams (or, in the case of college football, the richest schools) from stockpiling all the talent. If there is no competition, if a handful of teams have all the talent and everyone else is the Washington Generals, what’s the point?
Competitive balance is why there is revenue sharing among professional teams; it’s the reason for restricted free agency; it’s why player movement is restricted and players aren’t free to flee to other teams whenever they feel like it.
With the creation of NIL and the transfer portal, college sports has gone crazy with player movement. More than 20% of FBS players transfer yearly and that number is growing.
College athletes have more freedom of movement than high school and professional athletes, by far. Even kids on the playground restrict player movement at recess more than the college game.
The complaint also claims that the rule also denies athletes educational opportunities by restricting transfers. So be it. It’s the price they pay to compete in sports. Athletes can’t have the same freedom of movement from school to school as English majors if they want to play their sport.
Meanwhile, the NCAA faces an attack on another front. Most states have already passed laws to rein in the name, image and likeness craze that, in combination with the transfer portal, has made college football look like the southern border (several federal NIL-related bills have also been introduced).
The Utah legislature is trying to join the cause (hooray!). HB202, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, is seeking to define what college athletes, schools and boosters can and can’t do — in other words, we’re right back where we started decades ago. Where the NCAA once tried to control what and how athletes received payment under the table, now legislators are trying to define what and how they can receive it over the table.
The NIL ship has already sailed and now they’re trying to recall it. It’s tricky because state rules that are too restrictive will cause athletes to find deals in other, less restrictive states.
“The intent of the legislation is to ensure that our universities in the state are able to compete on a level playing field with the other universities across the nation,” said Teuscher.
Good luck with that. As Deseret News reporter Dennis Romboy reported recently, Teuscher noted that universities have already expressed concerns about some of the language in the bill, “so expect significant changes.”
Don’t you wonder why legislatures even bother to go down this road?
In this March 21, 2013, file photo, taken with a fisheye lens, the NCAA logo is displayed on the court during the NCAA college basketball tournament in Philadelphia. NCAA officials sent a letter to its membership Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, noting its enforcement’s staff pursuit of “potential violations” of the name, image and likeness compensation policy and emphasizing the need for schools to help investigations.
Matt Slocum, Associated Press