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Bob Ryan

It’s the end of the NCAA as we know it

Mark Emmert’s NCAA is done, as we know it.David J. Phillip/Associated Press/File

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): Born, 1910 (give or take). Died, August 2014.

It’s dead, all right. At least as we have always known it.

Its demise was foreseen many years ago. It clearly wasn’t working. There was no reasonable possibility of it ever working, given the disparity in interests, and more importantly, finances among its members. I mean, really. Athletically speaking, what does Texas have in common with Eastern Washington, Coastal Carolina or Mississippi Valley State? Or Harvard, for that matter.

To the surprise of no one who has been paying attention for the past two decades, the High Rollers have finally separated themselves from the Rabble. Call them the Big Five, the Power Five, the High (and Mighty) Five, or perhaps even the (Naughty Word You) Five, but understand that from now on the schools comprising the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten (which has 14 members), Big 12 (which has 10 members), and Pac-12 (which, to the astonishment of all, actually has 12 members, for now) will be able to play by their own rules in very significant ways.

This is about two things. 1. Football. 2. Money, specifically television money. This pursuit has resulted in a complete abrogation of common sense with regard to the composition of their conferences. The last time I looked, the University of Colorado was closer to the North Pole than it was to the Pacific Ocean (OK, a slight exaggeration). But it is a member in good standing of the Pac-12. Rutgers a member of the Big Ten? And Maryland? Can’t be. But it’s true in both cases. I could go on. I mean, Boston College has been more than 400 miles from its closest partner in the ACC. That’s before Syracuse came in, of course. I’m glad Dave Gavitt didn’t live to see that.


In related news, federal judge Claudia Wilken demonstrated that she hadn’t taken leave of her own common sense capacity by ruling in favor of the plaintiff in the so-called O’Bannon case. NCAA attorneys tried mightily to defend the laughably indefensible by arguing that individuals whose names, images, and likenesses had been used in such things as video games or advertising that made money for the NCAA were not entitled to monetary compensation.


I’m not sure ownership of a judicial robe was needed to adjudicate this lawsuit. This was a 360-degree dunk, was it not? If our laws don’t protect us from that type of outrageous exploitation, this is a sorry country indeed.

We needn’t get bogged down right now with the details contained in a 99-page decision. Let’s just say that the NCAA had certain body parts handed to it.

The point is that it was a momentous week in the world of big-time college sports. August of 2014 will henceforth be the dividing line in American college sports history, much like 1967 represents the dividing line in Red Sox history or the Beatles the dividing line in popular music by obliterating the distinction between composer and performer to a degree and level of craftsmanship heretofore unseen. (In case you didn’t know, Crosby, Sinatra, and Elvis sang, with very few exceptions, what professional composers wrote for them).

I realize that around these here parts far more people are concerned about whether Gronk will come back strong or what front-line pitchers the Red Sox will pursue in the offseason than anything pertaining to national college sports. But then, as my daughter Jessica points out, each year the NFL and NBA drafts roll around and suddenly everyone’s an expert with a strong opinion, based on what, exactly? Where do they think the players come from? Wouldn’t you think it would have been wise to pay some attention when they were actually competing? Just asking.


Elsewhere, this upheaval in college sports is an extremely big story. I believe it’s the current leader in the clubhouse as the sports story of the year. The centerpiece here is college football and a strong case can be made that it is America’s second favorite sport (the Northeast excepted), trailing only the NFL. And we do have a stake in it because BC is now identified as one of the High Rollers.

I was weaned on college sports. College sports and major league baseball are the foundation of my sports experience. But there was a time when I honestly thought America would come to the conclusion that big-time college sports were corrupting and unsustainable.

We are, after all, the only country that does this (Canada has college sports, but on a far more modest level). No, no. We are the only country that does this. And by “this’ I mean we are the only country in which institutions of higher learning are used to provide what some people would regard as irreplaceable forms of mass entertainment. I stupidly thought this country would find “this” to be embarrassing.


I could not have been more wrong. What the High Rollers have done is placate the mob. America wants this and it wants it in a very big way. Ohio State and Texas and Alabama and Kentucky and, yeah, you too Notre Dame, know this and they’re not going to allow Eastern Washington, Coastal Carolina, Mississippi Valley State, or Harvard to interfere.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.