The toxic culture of the NCAA

Jake Elmslie  – Sports Editor

In 2017, the NCAA surpassed $1 billion in revenue for the first time in the organization’s history. The year before, nearly the entire Baylor University football power structure alongside the school’s president were ousted after nearly half a decade of sexual assault allegations; previously hidden by the school’s administration came to light. In 2017, the horrific and numerous acts of sexual assault committed by Larry Nassar in his time as a doctor for Michigan State gymnastics came to light. Within the last three months, copious amounts of evidence have come out pointing to the idea that Ohio State University head football coach Urban Meyer as well as the school’s athletic department were aware of domestic abuse being committed by assistant coach Zach Smith against his then wife, Courtney, for nearly a decade. Said assistant remained on Meyer’s staff until reports of these domestic incidents surfaced in July.

In each of these cases, the NCAA handed down no punishment. The NCAA has very few rules that would actually allow it to punish athletic programs for incidents involving violence against women. In the wake of the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal, the NCAA and the schools it governs had the opportunity to institute such rules, all parties chose not to.

Within the same time frame as these incidents, no NCAA athlete has legally received payment for their labors. No NCAA athlete has legally been able to use their own likeness for profit. The NCAA  holds up the concept of amateurism as an ideal that it stringently enforces. While Baylor University and Michigan State face no penalties for their respective scandals, athletic departments have been fined by the organization for infractions as small as a coach buying an athlete lunch.  

It is difficult to pinpoint which level this organizational negligence towards violence against women stems from. Does it come from coaches willing to cover up the crimes of their own players and staff members? Does it come from university administrators more concerned with protecting their school’s image and by extension profitability even when it comes at the expense of victims of abuse? Or perhaps it comes from the leadership of the NCAA, an organization seemingly more concerned with upholding the vestige of amateurism; an ideal that has been discarded by virtually every other significant governing body in sports worldwide. Regardless of the identity of the prime culprit it is obvious that an imbalance exists in the heavy-handed way in which the NCAA handles frivolous infractions versus the almost complete lack of institutional action when it comes to matters involving the abuse of women.

The answer for why this type of culture persists may simply lie in the coffers of college sports governing body. However in an age where our society’s tolerance for violence against women continues to decline, we must ask if a governing body that through it’s own inaction in many ways enables such crimes should be permitted to exist in its current form regardless of profit.