The sporting world is filled with acronyms -- RBI, ERA, PPG, NFL, NHL. Sometimes we absorb these acronyms so completely and deeply we have to remind ourselves what they actually stand for.
The Sandusky scandal put many eyes on Penn State but nearly as many on the NCAA and its decision-making.
Take the NCAA, for instance.
Born of a desire by then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to reform college football, the National Collegiate Athletic Association was founded in 1906 as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (or, IAAUS, another acronym) and switched to its current moniker four years later.
The NCAA had no full-time administrator until 1951, and since that time has called six different men, including Mark Emmert, its president. It counts more than 1,200 institutions as members in three classifications (Divisions I, II and III).
National. Collegiate. Athletic. Association.
Well, it's hard to dispute the "national" part, even though Simon Fraser, the British Columbia university which became an NCAA member in 2009, technically makes it an international organization. "Collegiate" and "athletic" are pretty self explanatory. The term "association", though, means "an organized body of people who have an interest, activity or purpose in common."
Organized? Uhhhh … Common interest? Oooh, boy ...
It has become clear, through the NCAA's recent dealings with Penn State, North Carolina, Miami and others, that the association, in its current form, is not equipped to perform comprehensive, reliable investigations of its members, which means that any punishment it delivers will continue to come off as questionable.
The question, then, is do America's universities and their athletic programs need it to be so equipped?
Should it be the responsibility of those member institutions and the conferences to which they belong -- with the help of local, state or federal law enforcement, if need be -- to look after their own sports programs? Or do they need a national organization there for checks, balances and some continuity?
To many, the thought of a college athletics landscape -- particularly the football and basketball parts of that landscape -- without some kind of a national authoritative entity to answer to is abhorrent. The line between amateur and professional athletics is as blurry today as it as ever been, if you believe it exists at all. Corruption is everywhere, and so is the financial crunch on many universities, whose administrators know that healthy football and basketball programs equal healthy bottom lines and just might be willing to look the other way on a few things to ensure the health of both.
But just what, exactly, is the NCAA doing about all of this? For years, it has been trying to clean a very large house filled with very active and diverse guests, armed with a worn-out broom and some dingy sponges. It doesn't have the time or the resources to do the necessary work and, really, most of the tenants don't mind.
And then, when one of those tenants developed an ugly mess on the edge of the property, along the line that separates this hypothetical NCAA house from the legal system house next door, Emmert and the executive board used that broom and those sponges for all they were worth, even if the case in question had very little to do with athletics at all.
Just as the horrific details of the Jerry Sandusky case have increased awareness of sexual abuse -- and, at least in some way, helped lead to the arrests of several predators nationwide -- the unsteady way the NCAA delivered sanctions to Penn State and its suspect actions since have, hopefully, caused those inside and outside the organization to take a serious look at the way it operates. Hopefully it has caused them to consider what the NCAA can and cannot and should and should not do when it comes to investigating and disciplining its member institutions.
The NCAA has a few choices -- continue carrying on the way it has been, which will likely continue to lead to public embarrassments such as the Miami investigation; decide to step aside and allow the conferences and its members to govern themselves; or enact some serious internal reform and restructuring so that it can deliver swift and fair discipline that is backed by sound, agenda-free investigation and, just as importantly, can determine which cases do and do not fall inside its jurisdiction.
It is unlikely the organization will go with Option 2. Hopefully, it chooses the third option. Otherwise, the NCAA might eventually find itself on the other end of those investigations, perhaps the kind conducted by -- yup, another acronym -- the FBI?