NCAA football — Looking out for number one

In writing about FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, I’ve mentioned the corruption that, I believe, plagues that outfit. A subtext of this commentary is my view that international bodies frequently suffer from this infirmity, and that the U.S. should resist ceding power to them, at least when it comes to matters more serious than sports.
Without backing down from these conclusions, I’m bound to acknowledge that corrupt sports-governing bodies are not unknown in this country. Consider the NCAA. Today it announced that several Ohio State University football players, including high profile quarterback Terrelle Pryor, will be banned from the first five games of next season for violations of NCAA policies. It seems that the players sold “awards, gifts and university apparel and received improper benefits in 2009.”
However, the NCAA chose not to ban these players from participating in the upcoming Sugar Bowl. The official explanation is that they did not receive adequate rules education during the time period when the violations occurred. However, it should require no education for college athletes to understand that selling awards received for their on-field performance is problematic. And, in any case, it is not clear to me why this allegedly extenuating factor should influence the starting point of the suspension.
I suspect the real explanation is that the NCAA has a strong interest in maximizing the appeal of the Sugar Bowl (or the Allstate Sugar Bowl, I guess I should say). ABC has paid a pretty penny to broadcast that game. It would be against the interests of the NCAA to dole out punishment that diminishes the value of that contest to the network and its corporate sponsors. A good portion of that value is based on a full strength Ohio State team and, in particular, the presence of the flashy Pryor.
For his part, Pryor will probably move on to the NFL next year, along perhaps with some of the other “suspended” players. So he will end up serving no suspension at all.
That’s actually okay with me, in the abstract. I don’t begrudge kids (typically lower income ones) who help generate millions of dollars in revenue a little bit of cash on the side. But the NCAA does. So if it’s going to issue penalties for such activity, it shouldn’t tailor the penalties to maximize its own financial interests.
When it comes to football the NCAA, which still doesn’t have a post-season tournament, isn’t very committed to finding out who is number one. However, it’s awfully committed to looking out for Number One.