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Abolish the NCAA!

Malcolm Gladwell, author of airport bookstore mainstays Blink and The Tipping Point, has called for the abolition of the NCAA. Its crimes are cruelty to Ramon McElrathbey and insufficient parity in football. Matthew Yglesias agrees, because Texas whupped North Texas on Saturday.

The argument goes back to a paper by Jim Peach, economics professor at New Mexico State, and the essential gist of it is that without all those pesky regulations, athletics programs would get more money, students would be rich, and a sort of free agency derived parity would rule the land. This ignores a great deal of differences between the college and pro games - chief among them that a college sporting career is of a limited duration greatly effecting future earning power (in the NFL). But I'd like to pick up on a comment made in response to Gladwell, and expand it into a little gedankenexperiment:

(Yeah, I brought the German into this. It's how I roll.)

Let's postulate all the universities competing in some unnamed event, of which there's little to no regulation. You can pay the coaches whatever you can afford. You can give scholarships as freely as you desire. Acedemic standards are set entirely at the discretion of the admitting institutions. Mobility between colleges is unlimited - coaches can take new jobs at will, and students can transfer to any institution willing to take them. Will this lead to complete parity among all the institutions involved? A homogneity of equal value everywhere?

Now replace "coaches" with "professors" and look at the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Or any other you prefer. I don't see Harvard bouncing around between the top slots and those in the high hundreds. There's a little movement - movement sells magazines after all, but the general quality in education remains a highly tiered list. The free market hasn't exactly brought excellence to everyone.

And one thing that's gone unmentioned in all of this, is that the NCAA hasn't screwed up the McElrathbey case. There's no way you could run an ameteur athletic organization and allow unrestrained charitable donations to the players. The case must be reviewed by the NCAA, and although there slow and prone to making stupid decisions, they haven't done so here. Needless to say, they really need to grant this exemption, and do so quickly.

Edited to add: Of course, after the fact I realize Sunday Morning Quarterback covered this on Monday, with better and more coherent insight. He comes to a similar conclusion, as well.