Jay Bilas: Time to reform the NCAA

Don’t expect Jay Bilas to lead a full-court press for reforming college athletics by advocating for more rules. Instead, the former Duke University basketball star and current television basketball analyst said it’s college athletics’ governing body, the NCAA, that needs to be reformed.

The NCAA has far too many rules that don’t make sense and create problems where none existed before, said Bilas, speaking at Wake Forest University as the latest speaker in the University’s “Voices of our Time” speaker series.

“The NCAA has got to change,” he told a large audience in Brendle Recital Hall Thursday night. Otherwise, he said, major athletics conferences and schools could start their own post-season basketball tournament – depriving the NCAA of most of its revenue — and shut down the NCAA.

The NCAA must start over by giving up two of its guiding principles — fairness and the sanctity of amateur athletics, Bilas said in his speech, “College Sports Inside and Out.”

That effort has resulted in a byzantine set of rules that are unnecessary and impossible to enforce. If every rule was followed, most college athletes would be ineligible, he said.

One rule specifies what schools can provide in locker rooms — fruits, nuts and bagels — and what they can’t provide — peanut butter. “If it sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is ridiculous.”

Rules that limit coaches’ contacts with recruits have had the unintended consequence of making the process more difficult for coaches and recruits and opened the door more to agents and others influencing the process.

The effort to regulate fairness in competition is fatally flawed, he said. “It’s impossible to create a level-playing field.”

Bilas also said the NCAA should get out of the business of setting eligibility requirements for student-athletes; instead each school should decide who is right for their institution. The NCAA also should stop setting graduation requirements, he said. “The emphasis on graduation rates is misplaced, it should be on education.”

Bilas, who also graduated from Duke University’s law school and is an attorney in Charlotte, said that it’s time to begin compensating college athletes and forget the quaint notion of amateur athletics. There’s nothing amateur about college athletics, he said, because “everybody gets paid except the athletes.”

He stressed that he wasn’t advocating paying college athletes a salary, but rather allowing them stipends and other benefits, including endorsement deals. “It’s a mental hurdle to get over the purity of college athletics,” he admitted. But allowing extra benefits would remove much of the corruption in athletics, he said.

After his speech, Bilas was joined on the stage by Wake Forest Director of Athletics Ron Wellman; Professor of Law Tim Davis, a leading sports-law scholar; and Ben Sutton (’80, JD ’83), founder of International Sports Properties, for a question-and-answer period.

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