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Patrick Hruby

The Beginning of the NCAA's End?

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on The College Football Playoff and the future of intercollegiate sports

The Atlantic online

Simple. Direct. Downright literal. And notable for the four letters - N-C-A-A - it leaves out. The College Football Playoff (TM!) is almost here, and in this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we ask: what does this mean for the future of the National Collegiate Athletic Association?

Patrick Hruby: ... Forget administrative incompetence, the ongoing O'Bannon lawsuit, the fundamental unfairness and unsustainability of amateurism, the fact that college athletic directors are increasingly fed up. The biggest reason the NCAA is teetering is that the big-time football schools don't need the organization. Not anymore. Not when they can make tons of money without NCAA interference. In men's basketball, the association acts as a profit-skimming middleman, selling the multibillion-dollar television rights to the popular postseason basketball tournament and spreading the spoils around; in football, the power schools and conferences broker their own broadcast deals for even larger piles of cash, which they get to control and keep.

As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports—and speaking of corporate names!—points out, "College Football Playoff" does not include the terms NCAA, FBS or Division I-A. The reason? "That way," Wetzel writes, "if the high-major college football schools decide to bail on the NCAA itself, the playoff isn't tied to outdated labels." And bail they will. Maybe not in five years. Maybe not in 10. But eventually, just as soon as institutional inertia gives way to full-fledged opportunism. The people who run big-time college sports adamantly refuse to share their profits with their own labor force; why on Earth would they indefinitely continue to share them with a bunch of redundant bureaucrats in Indianapolis? One day, we're going to have a College Basketball Playoff, too, and that point the NCAA as we know it will cease to exist ...

Hampton Stevens: ... With the NCAA a shell of itself, there will be no one to enforce their innumerable, inscrutable, mostly exploitative rules governing student-athletes. There will be no compliance officers. That means, simply, no one will comply. With nobody to stop boosters from giving cash and gifts, and no meaningful penalties for players taking them, it's simply bound to happen.

Now you might say the universities still won't feel liking sharing. With alumni handing out money almost over the table, why would they?

They will. Because of the very same, insane, win-at-all cost mentality in college sports that's so often (rightfully) decried.

Someone at a future version of Michigan or USC—or in the leadership of the coming Big 20 or Pac-25—will realize that offering a players a legal, regulated, above-board stipend will be the greatest recruiting tool in the history of college athletics ...

Jake Simpson: ... The athletes may get paid eventually, but the CFP won't be the tipping point. That will be a labor-friendly appellate court panel that forces the Supreme Court to hear a case like Ed O'Bannon's.

As for the action between the goalposts, I'm stoked for new playoff system, though not because I think it's any better (or even significantly more meritorious) than the BCS. I'm excited for CONTROVERSY, with a capital C. Of the four entrants into the new playoff system, one will be the highest-ranked team from the five (for now) power conferences. The other three will be determined by a selection committee a la March Madness. But instead of deciding between Team No. 68 and Team No. 69, these committee members will be forced to choose who is the fourth-best team in the country, and who is fifth. You think the computer nerds who made up a third of the BCS got it bad from the media and public? Wait until an SEC at-large team slides into the last playoff spot ahead of a 12-0 Boise State team. The accusations of bias will be swift and vitriolic. I can't wait ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online