College football has a major problem. Many top programs have faced allegations of illegal recruitment practices and of giving impermissible benefits to their players.
Last month's Yahoo! Sports reported that a University of Miami booster provided at least 72 players with millions of dollars worth of benefits. Miami is just the most recent major program to be scrutinized.
Both teams in January's Bowl Championship Series game – Auburn University and the University of Oregon – faced allegations of illegal recruiting. Auburn was accused of a "pay for play" arrangement with Cam Newton's father. Oregon is under NCAA investigation for its involvement with a man who allegedly accepted $25,000 from the Ducks to convince top recruits to join Oregon.
The University of Southern California and the University of Tennessee are each on probation for their own violations, while Boise State is under investigation for giving players illegal benefits. Ohio State also had its own well-publicized series of violations in the recent past.
The NCAA is punishing programs that break the rules but the problem is that the individuals being punished weren't the ones breaking the rules. By the time the NCAA completes its investigations, the players and coaches who broke the rules are no longer at the school. For example, at the University of Southern California, the current players and coaching staff are being punished for the rule-breaking days of Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush.
In the cases of Miami and Auburn, players who allegedly received illicit benefits are in the NFL by now. Former Buckeye Terrell Pryor decided to go to the NFL instead of being suspended by Ohio State. Denver Broncos wide receiver DeMaryius Thomas isn't facing the four-year probation he helped give Georgia Tech by taking illegal benefits from an agent.
The point is, the current system of punishment is not working. So how do you fix it?
You will not be able to stop players from taking money from boosters, especially if they know by the time the situation is fully investigated and a punishment is handed out, they will no longer be at that college. It is not a criminal act for the players to do so and I don't think it is even unethical for players to do so, especially when a large number of them come from poor economic backgrounds.
Most coaches will do what Jim Tressel did and not report violations if they know about them. A head coach can easily jump ship and go to the NFL or a different college program when the violations are about to become public. Just look at Lane Kiffen and Pete Carroll.
If paying the players becomes a legal action, it may help to eliminate problems, but also leads to more questions. How much do you pay the players? Do you pay all the players the same? And how does that affect smaller schools that don't have as much money as larger schools? A way to help this would be to set a maximum amount schools can pay players and limit the number of players a school can pay, similar to scholarships.
Another solution may be getting the NFL involved. Should the NFL suspend players for breaking NCAA rules? Commissioner Roger Goodell of the NFL has not shied away from suspending players for breaking the law. But there is a big difference between having a drunk driving accident and a college athlete taking money for food and clothes. Plus, why would the NFL suspend young players who will bring in higher TV ratings and jersey sales?
This is a complex system that needs to be changed. The NCAA has a big mess on its hands and must do something to fix it while all options are on the table.