Guard Darius Morris playing for Michigan in 2010.
I previously suggested the NCAA should focus less on increasing penalties and more on inspiring players to voluntarily do the right thing. But occasional, intangible word plays are not enough. I suspect those teenagers most at risk of breaking the NCAA's rules need a steady diet of something a little more tangible. Even politicians nowadays realize the prime incentive to motivate voting behavior is a single word – "jobs."
I would be very interested to see what would happen if a major school had the imagination, insight, and courage to institutionalize pro influencers and use jobs as an incentive for infraction-free behavior. Here's how you start: Offer a required course for student athletes that's taught by executives from the vast number of businesses scoring big profits thanks to the popularity of college sports. Internships, counseling sessions and specialized resume-building should not be on the sidelines but in the starting line-up of what these players learn.
And if university presidents are serious about keeping players infraction free, they could require or "strongly suggest" that sports vendors participate in such programs. I am confident businesses that gain sizable revenues from the players and the sports programs will gladly infuse resources to keep those valuable university contracts. Many of these businesspeople really want to help—they just need a more structured and accessible opportunity.
Incentives could be put in place whereby infraction-free players will have greater access to these career resources. And it's not like incentives are a foreign concept in America. We use them all the time to encourage behaviors. Corporate tax credits and individual home mortgage deductions are just a few used to inspire people to buy homes or businesses to invest in new plants, equipment or research and development. What's more, our government offers tax breaks for educators and grants to students that do not have to be repaid—it's all done because we as a society believe an overall good will come from the nudge.
Where would the money come from to institutionalize aggressive pro mentors? Start with the athletic programs themselves. A majority of schools from the six major conferences have increased their athletic budgets by double-digit percentages from fiscal years 2010 to 2012. In part, the increase is a trickle down from new rich TV conference contracts. Even Michigan, which nowadays wins football games only slightly more often than it loses, increased its athletic budget from $84.6 million to $109.8 million. That is a 29.8 percent rise in two years. On college campuses, these athletic budgets pay for a lot of administrative people, but not the people of greatest potential influence over those high-impact touchdown makers who are too often a high risk for infractions.
A tiny piece of the TV money major colleges bring in annually would be enough to start programs that help athletes find strong mentors, develop career aspirations and understand that booster handouts are far from their best option.