Maybe the NCAA Isn’t Evil After All

Have years of accumulated guilt caused the greedy college ball czars to pick up the travel tab for players’ families?

In a rare moment of clarity and decisiveness, the NCAA announced yesterday that it will allow the College Football Playoff to cover travel expenses for players’ families who attend next week’s national championship game in Dallas. Come April, it will do the same for those who want to watch their kids play in the Final Four. With the CFP making $470 million a year for TV rights and the NCAA collecting $681 million, it’s a logical change that finally lets players in on a bit of the revenue they generate. So, is 2015 the year in which the NCAA finally does right by the unpaid men and women who enrich it?

Of course not. But covering travel expenses is another sign that years of criticism, high profile lawsuits, and an increasing risk of irrelevance is giving the NCAA something it has lacked for decades: a clue. It’s the only way to explain an organization known for its sluggishness changing a rule so quickly. Hell, it was only last Thursday when Urban Meyer, in his comments after the Buckeyes’ win over Alabama, was calling for the NCAA to step up. Now parents of Ohio State and Oregon players will be able to attend Monday night’s game without worrying about the financial burden. That’s progress.

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The NCAA hasn’t made a habit of responding to criticism with such speed, but it’s not unprecedented. Remember last April when UConn star Shabazz Napier said he and teammates sometimes go to bed starving because they’re only allowed three meals a day? Eight days later, the NCAA legislative council signed off on a proposal allowing D-1 schools to give athletes unlimited meals and snacks. It was a flicker, even for just a moment, that the NCAA might be figuring things out.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In order for the NCAA to correct these two ridiculous rules, it had to first have them on the books. And it shouldn’t be let off the hook for all the years athletes were forced to weigh their need for tacos against their desire to remain eligible. Or for all the years when small towns had to take up collections to send families to the Final Four.

And it’s not like the NCAA is changing these rules because it’s realizing how patently unfair it is to pay its president $1.7 million while forcing working class families to rack up credit card debt to see their kids play. Fact is, the NCAA is getting closer to irrelevance each year. It’s ineffective at its stated mission, it enforces Draconian rules in nonsensical ways and it’s losing power to major conferences who appear to see the NCAA as more of a nuisance than a necessity. Fixing its dumbest policies is a quick way to show progress in the face of widespread ridicule, but if the NCAA really wants to prove it’s finally gotten a clue, it’s got a lot more work to do.

Photos by AP Photo/Keith Srakocic