Nothing better illustrates how draconian and out-of-touch the NCAA is than its suspension of Ohio State’s star defensive end Chase Young. Young, a Heisman Trophy contender who leads the country in sacks, could be suspended for up to four games, which means he’d miss all three of Ohio State’s remaining regular season games after already missing OSU’s game against Maryland last weekend.
What did Young do? He borrowed money from a family friend to fly his girlfriend to the Rose Bowl back in January, then paid the loan back over the summer. In other words, the NCAA is punishing Young for being poor. As far as the NCAA is concerned, it would be perfectly fine for the middle-class parents of a football player to buy a plane ticket for their son’s girlfriend, but because Young and his family apparently didn’t have the means to do that, he gets suspended.
Young’s suspension is going to reverberate throughout college football just as the regular season is winding down. It has huge implications for the No. 2 ranked Buckeye’s Big Ten and playoff hopes, especially as they’ll face both Penn State and Michigan later this month. But it raises questions about the fundamental fairness of NCAA policies at a time when California’s new law allowing college athletes to cut endorsement deals has forced the association to abandon its long-held prohibitions on student-athletes earning incomes.
The NCAA’s Rules Are Insane
To understand why Young may have run afoul of NCAA rules, you have to appreciate just how byzantine and authoritarian the rules are. Young, by his own admission, borrowed money from a “family friend” whom he says he’s known since before he attended OSU, and repaid the loan last summer.
— Chase Young (@youngchase907) November 8, 2019
Why is that a problem? Well, according to the NCAA bylaws, which exceed 400 pages, loans to student-athletes constitute an “extra benefit” and are generally prohibited. NCAA rule 22.214.171.124, which governs “loans from an established family friend,” stipulates that such loans are only permitted if:
(a) The loan is not offered to the student-athlete based in any degree on his or her athletics ability or reputation;
(b) The individual providing the loan is not considered a representative of the institution’s athletics interests; and
(c) The relationship between the individual providing the loan and the student-athlete existed prior to the initiation of the student-athlete’s recruitment by the member institution.
So whether Young broke NCAA rules will depend on who gave him the loan and how long he’s known this person. If he’s found to be in violation of the loan rules, then he’s subject to NCAA bylaw 12.4.1, which states that players who have repaid loans are not subject to suspension unless the benefit is between $200 and $500, which triggers a “withholding” penalty of 10 percent of the season’s games, or two games in a 12-game season. If the benefit is $500 to $800, the penalty is 20 percent, or three games.
Young borrowed the money to fly his girlfriend out to Ohio State’s 2019 Rose Bowl game against Washington. A roundtrip ticket from Columbus, Ohio, to Pasadena, California is between $200 and $350, give or take, which means if he’s found to have broken rule 126.96.36.199, he’ll likely face a two-game suspension.
The NCAA Is Ruining College Sports
Setting aside the nit-picking bureaucratic tyranny of the rules themselves, consider the appalling unfairness of all this in its real-world application. If Young had to borrow money from a family friend for a $350 plane ticket, it’s safe to say he didn’t have $350 to spare, or couldn’t get it from a family member. It’s easy to see how such a rule disproportionately punishes players from poor families or disadvantaged backgrounds.
The whole thing is appalling, and makes a strong case for the total dissolution of the NCAA, especially in light of its similar mistreatment of Memphis basketball star James Wiseman, who is also under NCAA investigation for some ticky-tacky financial violation from years ago.
What makes the Young case especially maddening, though, is that the NCAA has basically ruined what could have been one of the greatest seasons of any defensive end in the entire history of college football. Young currently has 13.5 sacks, more than any other player in the country, and that’s after having missed Ohio State’s last game. He’s half a sack away from breaking Ohio State’s single season record, and might have broken the NCAA record of 24 sacks if not for this suspension.
Critics of college football and the NCAA have long decried the exploitation of college football players, who earn their schools billions in exchange for scholarships and a phone book-sized set of NCAA rules about what they can and can’t do. Those critics have a point. College athletes should be allowed to earn what they’re worth, and the case of Chase Young illustrates that perfectly.
The fact that arguably the best college football player in the country, who in a sane world would right now be worth millions, had to borrow money for a plane ticket for his girlfriend is all the evidence you need that the NCAA has outlived its usefulness and should be dissolved.