BOSTON — Ideas are fragile. People who least understand this are those who have yet to have a creative idea beyond deciding what to watch on TV tonight.
That acknowledged, the NCAA, governing body of collegiate sport, has come up with an idea that positively stinks. This idea defines skunk at a picnic. It's this: College students who attend on athletic scholarships can now have jobs during their competitive seasons and earn up to $2,000 a school year.
Why this has happened is clear: The NCAA has been unable to figure out how to stop wrongdoing when it comes to slipping tainted money into athletes' hands - primarily males playing football and basketball - so it has given up.
This is desperately sad for college sport.
To fold one's ethical tent like this is perfectly in line with: "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.'' This is the concept of acquiescing to adversity, turning backs on the problems, and seeking pleasure to distract from real concerns.
For openers, schools that have larceny in their hearts and on their records probably are already arranging (wink, wink) jobs for their young scholars. Will the scholars show up to sell clothes or work in the car dealerships on jobs that largely will be arranged by coaches and provided by athletic boosters? What do you think?
Then, of course, what will happen is the now legitimized play-for-pay - gosh, remember when we naively thought college athletics were secondary to education and that an athlete getting school paid for was a darn handsome reward? - will have checks providing a quasi-proper paper trail. What is not addressed is the cash that also will be passed by these boosters, with their new cozy access, under the traditional twin covers of darkness and deceit. Supporters who have indescribable interest in winning and no interest in law abiding are already smirking.
The further problem is that a lot of football and basketball programs are roughly equal. Athletes, for the most part, want to go to school where they see the most athletic advantage for themselves. Nothing wrong with that, really. Self-interest is alive and well in most areas of life. Athletes don't pick a school based on history-department strength. The problem is that a $2,000 check for a job, even if work is not part of the job description, can't compete with a $2,000 check plus $10,000 cash, all yours, son, just keep your mouth shut.
The thought behind the change is it wasn't fair for scholarship athletes to be prohibited from working whenever they want, just as academic scholarship students can. No one addressed the obvious: Scholarship athletes already are loaded up with sport demands, and we idealists continue to hope, academic demands. This adds up to two full-time jobs. They don't have time for a third job called a job.
This half-baked scam is extolled by Kenneth Shaw, Syracuse University chancellor and chairman of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors: "We are delighted to give student-athletes the opportunity to work in this way.''
His delight will be short-lived. Mr. Shaw admits there "likely will be changes,'' which is encouraging. And he says ominously, "We should consider this a work in progress.'' He knows this won't work. Everybody knows.
What the supporters of this charade are relying on is the basic goodwill of man. Alas, those who are willing to leave it at that have never been close enough to collegiate sport to know how desperately winning is coveted.
The lament has been athletes need to have ways to get money to buy a pizza or go to a movie. That's reasonable. Yet, there is no reason for the university to take responsibility for everything financial for a student-athlete. Parents should still have responsibilities, even if Bruno can shoot 18-foot pull-up jumpers with drop-dead accuracy. If things are tight financially, extended families have responsibilities.
Bruno doesn't have time for another job nor should Bruno be put in the position that leaves him ripe for ethical compromise. It's harder than you know for a young, impoverished college student to return a $100 bill slapped surreptitiously in his palm.
College athletics are on such a slippery slope. Giving into the dark side is not a reasonable solution.
Watch the cheating begin.
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is email@example.com