NCAA Needs to Revamp “Extra Benefits” Restrictions

It’s time for the madness to stop in regard to NCAA violations concerning student-athletes receiving money and other concessions from outside sources. It seems like once a month a story comes out about some current or former player being investigated for something illegal according to NCAA rules: Johnny Manziel getting paid for signing autographs, the entire Oklahoma State program for all kinds of improper benefits, and now Arian Foster admitting he accepted money during his time at Tennessee.

Of course Manziel was cleared of any wrongdoing, the OSU situation is in the early stages of investigation, and Foster’s admission could lead to trouble for the Vols’ program down the line. But the fact that these stories have dominated the college football headlines for the past couple of months shows that either the NCAA is watching closer than ever, or the players simply don’t care about the rules.

I make that last statement not because I think college football players are rogues and renegades who have no disregard for the laws set forth by the governing body of intercollegiate sports, but because I think they don’t believe some of what they are doing is all that bad and that any consequences resulting from their actions don’t often impact them directly. A notable exception is Reggie Bush having to vacate his Heisman Trophy several years after his playing days at Southern Cal were over, but Bush, the NCAA and everyone else in the universe know that he won the trophy, regardless of what the record book says. That’s why there needs to be some small yet impactful changes to the rules.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said recently that paying student-athletes is out of the question, which I tend to agree with. However, what can be done in lieu of stipends and salaries is relaxing the restrictions on some of the so-called Extra Benefits. Currently, a player can’t even accept a cheap fast food meal from someone other than his parents, and even that is iffy. I experienced this ridiculous rule first-hand when I was in college. I ran into one of the players from my school at a local fast food joint. He was there with his son and I was with mine, and I asked him if I could buy him a burger just to help him out a little. To his credit, he declined and told me that it would be an NCAA violation if he accepted. I said, “Really? For a two-dollar hamburger?” Yep, that’s the rule.

One of the Extra Benefits that could be taken off of the prohibited list includes the aforementioned meals, up to a certain amount. I agree that players shouldn’t be allowed to be wined and dined on lobster and New York strip, but if a classmate wants to buy his favorite linebacker a double cheeseburger – that would be acceptable. Set the cap at $10 or $15, which isn’t a whole lot. One can barely eat at said fast food joint for under $10.

Another one is the antiquated “allowing a player use of a phone to make free long distance calls.” In today’s cell phone age, pretty much everyone has free long distance. So if a player bums a phone off of one of his buddies to call his mom eight states away because he left his phone at home or it went through the wash, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. The caveat could be purpose of use. If the player is using his friend’s cell phone as cover for calling an agent, then that would be a no-no.

The other one that could be tweaked or dropped altogether is a little more controversial is allowing the use of the player’s name, picture or appearance to promote sales or use of a commercial product or service. This also could be allowed with several stipulations, such as a ceiling on compensation and limiting the type of business for which a player could be a spokesperson. For example, Johnny Manziel gets enough exposure being on network and cable TV nearly every weekend and doesn’t need to be peddling soft drinks or shaving cream. But if a local business wants to get a player from the hometown school to do a radio spot or be in a newspaper ad, that should be OK, if the business doesn’t offer or provide compensation beyond, say, the cost of the ad and it’s not a nationally recognized corporation. I think it would be just fine to hear on the radio during a game, “Hi, this is Billy Joe Smith, quarterback for State U. If you’re having car troubles, take it to Dave’s Auto Repair next to campus. That’s where I go when my 1963 Dodge pickup breaks down.” You get the point.

The final thing that could use a major overhaul is how the NCAA doles out penalties for violations. In some cases, if it can be proven to be a systemic problem such as with recruiting, the current program should be punished for its wrongdoings. But if a single player (and generally it’s a former player) gets caught violating a rule, then the player should have to pay the price, regardless of where he is in life. And the penalty should reflect the infraction; like if a player inappropriately accepted a thousand dollars while in school, his penalty should be to pay the university twice that which he accepted. It’s been said a thousand times before by a thousand other people, but punishing kids in the program today for what someone did four years ago is completely unfair. That would be like grounding my younger son for something his older brother did when he was in high school. Asinine, right?

The NCAA says it is looking at closing the economic gap between larger and smaller schools to create a more even playing field. Why not start by leveling things out for student-athletes who cannot enjoy some of the amenities other students who don’t have the “athlete” tag can? The changes that I described above aren’t earth-shattering, and they won’t change the landscape of college sports forever, but they would be a good start in eliminating some of the petty violations and truly punish those responsible for transgressing the law.

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