Following a decade of turbulence and fights for individual rights against a lordly overseer, which included numerous internecine fights and contention between constituents of widely varying interests and wants (not to mention wealth), a new set of governing rules were laid out and implemented. Or … wait … is scheduled to be created.
If you’re confused, don’t be. The parallels between the Constitutional Convention of 1787, out of which the founding principles of the United States were laid down, and the upcoming NCAA re-do of its current governing system, are many. Both were/are intended to create a radical new form of governance. Both grew out of the need to revise existing rules. (Back in 1787, that was the Articles of Confederation. Today, it’s the Byzantine NCAA structure and rulebook.) Both depended/will depend on the ability of the convention members to compromise. Both follow more than 10 years of upheaval, including monumental changes. Both involve individual fiefdoms (states and conferences) looking out for themselves first and foremost.
While the results of the 1787 version have produced a set of governing rules that have lasted (although not without severe strife and upheaval) for more than 230 years, the outlook for the latter is not nearly so stable. The NCAA has, however, been at least somewhat aboveboard in announcing its intentions:
“The time is now to transform college sports and re-imagine the NCAA system of governance. The current NCAA Constitution and governance model were built in a time much different than today. The Association’s actions related to the student-athlete experience and support, or in some cases inaction, has not gone unnoticed. This action will require innovative thinking and bold next steps, but if the Association is to remain relevant, it must lean forward and start with a clean sheet of paper and must do it now.”
The original convention was not nearly so open, as the common thought of the day was that the 55-member convention would merely re-work the Articles of Confederation, not replace them outright. However, after much debate, wrangling, arm-twisting and compromise, they got it done. Does the modern counterpart have any hope of doing so?
Many challenges await, including the fact that the rework will include all three NCAA Divisions – and this not long after the Autonomy Five conferences were granted a number of self-governance options that did not involve Divisions II or III, as well as some parts of Division I. With so many different interests to cover, can a more nimble, less involved document of governance be produced?
An even bigger question is one of trust. The NCAA’s convention will consist of 22 members from all levels and constituencies of college athletics. However, after the events of the past few weeks, will anyone trust anyone else to work with the good of college athletics in mind, or be willing to forego personal benefit for the good of everyone?
One of the Duties and Responsibilities of the Committee reads:
Recognize and adhere to deliberations and recommendations that represent the best interests of college athletics and not based on self-interest, employment interest, or the interests of affiliations.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz and Texas president Jay Hartzell have clearly demonstrated they do not have the personal honor, ethics or integrity to serve in any such manner, and there are many others that would be just as poor choices for a spot on the Constitution Review Committee, which will accept nominations for membership through Aug. 6. If people of that ilk are selected, the NCAA’s Constitutional Convention will be dead before it gets started and will produce either a structure so one-sided in favor of the power brokers or so weak as to make the NCAA an open range of malfeasance.
While many of the goals for the committee are good ones, there’s another bullet item in the duties section that is also laughable, given today’s atmosphere of every man for himself. It reads:
Maintain confidentiality and discretion in the course of the committee work
While that was also a charge of the 1787 version – one that the members in Philadelphia mostly upheld so as to promote frank discussion of any proposal – there’s no way that anything of the sort will happen this time around. There will be leaks, intimations, readings of the room and many other reports that come out between now and Dec. 15, 2021, when the committee’s final product is due to the NCAA Board of Governors. Will that serve to short-circuit the proceedings?
Unfortunately, there’s no Alexander Hamilton or James Madison to lead, or Benjamin Franklin to broker compromises and provide long-view knowledge in these meetings. Without men of that stature, it’s hard to see how any structure produced from this upcoming convention will be any better than what it is intended to replace.