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In memoriam of the Bylaw Blog

In last week's loss of the Bylaw Blog (I think I have a rough idea of how its author Compliance Guy was outed, but don't really care to delve into that or other meta topics right now), the college football community has lost a beyond invaluable, irreplaceable resource. I don't have the background (or frankly, anywhere near the skill) to even dream of matching CG's contributions. That being said, humor my naive belief that the best way to honor that site's memory here is to consider some of its chosen subject matter with the appropriate level of candor. There is truly no justice.

One story garnering a lot of attention lately has been the NCAA's probe into ties whether several high profile college football players forfeited their amateur status by accepting benefits from agents and runners. New names and targets are coming out by the day, and there are a lot of wild rumors floating around right now about other players and programs that could be implicated. It can be hard to make sense of it all, considering that the UNC side has been trying to spin and deflect blame. Meanwhile other sources are loudly insisting that Marvin Austin and possibly other Tar Heels won't play another down in college.

There's no point in further speculation until these issues are actually investigated through the proper established channels. In the meantime I am interested in the reason why this story has been so salient. Mid-late July is the college football offseason, and there's a certain craving for any new information, but it's at least close enough to September now where there are other things to discuss. Any talk of violating laws or discreetly paying players is beyond salacious. At the same time, there's always been a widespread assumption that all major college athletic departments south of the Mason-Dixon are dubious to some extent. It can't just be about rules and regulations either, because only the Hermes Conrad-types really care about bureaucratic minutiae.

I can think of two other reasons that seem intuitive enough, and want to offer them up in order to guard against coming off as excessively self-serving. There are certain athletic departments that may not (ever) accumulate a full trophy case, but they can always wield a cudgel of moral superiority. This is not intended to sound too full of hubris, really, but as a Rutgers fan (and this applies elsewhere too) there's always that line to fall back on.

Oh, the Scarlet Knights may be too inconsistent, they may lose games that they should win, but at least everything's above board. The players go to class, they stay out of trouble, and they're not pampered in excessive unbecoming luxury. In the event of any truly awful loss, it's our own particular break glass in case of emergency fait accompli Every player's situation is different, but the mean Big East player probably comes from a wealthier socio-economic background than the mean SEC player. In that case, who are we to judge?

There's another way to look at this that's even more cynical. What if the so-called "good guys" don't really have an internal ethical compass that compels rule compliance? Perhaps they're just hedging against future consequences, or even actively bidding to game the system? It's a concept called regulatory capture, which is closely related to rent seeking. Not only is it impossible to make the NCAA neutral, but it primarily exists as a tool at the behest of some institutions. At times it protected the entrenched status quo, and now they'll be shamed into crowning new victors.

For example, it could be more cost effective lobbying a governing body for the purpose of directly stymieing a competitor (through the use of arbitrary criteria), than running a conventional business strategy. In other words, petty crime doesn't make all that much sense when there are bigger scores with much less risk. Instead, anyone so inclined (and able to sufficiently delay gratification) ought to garner enough influence in order to make their actions not only legal, but commendable and widely admired.

Again, I'm not saying that I endorse either of those propositions, and in fact I think they're incorrect in this particular instance. I thought it would be interesting to develop those ideas a little though, and am curious to see if anyone wants to share any responses either in general or as pertains to any particular causal motivation for the NCAA rulebook.