One of these days in one of these months in one of these years this won’t be a problem. Boosters will be able to pay players, compensation packages for players will be a free and clear thing, and the way college football is right now will be the way it will be: a thing that is paid for, because it is a good, a delicious, consumable good, like a fresh savory biscuit or the Missouri defense.
We don’t have to worry about that happening. Like a lot of really obvious things, it’ll happen whether you want it to or not. It may take years and several court rulings and the endless appeals that will follow, but it is what will happen because there isn’t really a defense for it. That’s not even random internet opinion—it’s something courts have said time and time again.
So if we don’t want to follow the NCAA’s case against Ole Miss, that’s why. The NCAA doesn’t make laws, and the rules it makes aren’t law. You really shouldn’t talk about them like they’re law, either, because they break their own rules all the time. It’s fun to talk about, we guess—In the offseason it passes for an event, and June desperately needs events.
There’s another reason not to follow it, or at least care too much if you’re not an Ole Miss fan: In the battle of relative crimes here, Ole Miss is both the hero and the villain here, and that’s not a choice anyone wants to make.
The NCAA remains a convenient, tone-deaf target for every brickbat someone could think of throwing at it. It even makes a really rewarding sound when hit! Mark Emmert appears publicly, stammers on about amateurism, and makes sure he paints a billboard-sized bullseye on himself so you can make fun of what is both the inept and indefensible. He is the fat, slow, fifty pound duck in the pond; anyone in waders wanting to point out the obvious can hit him with a pellet gun.
That is probably by design. College football’s schools—and by extension their programs—can stage a melodrama in a self-contained mock trial. Ole Miss is working under weird, arbitrary rules it itself agreed on as an NCAA member; Other members can endorse punishment for breaking those rules, without really changing a thing about them, often while doing many of the same things. It’s a hotbox of imaginary morality, a sealed terrarium meant to keep the basic ingredients—money and a set of rules all its own—inside forever.
*Don’t go too far down that metaphorical road. It ends with coaches being the sad fat snails wandering the topsoil or something, and that’s a disservice to very fit coaches who work out all the time like Kyle Whittingham. Please don’t fight us, Kyle Whittingham. We are weak, and you are very strong.
The member institutions—including your school—remain the problem. That makes taking any side in this case ridiculous, even if it’s fun. Ole Miss, like every other school, doesn’t want to pay its players. It agrees to the rules of the NCAA and its conference in order to do that. To compete, it is alleged to have paid its players, accidentally doing the right thing for completely self-interested reasons; Upon being caught, they will run back to the rules in order to remain in the system, even if they make a fuss about not breaking them.
It’s not bad for petty country theater, mind you. For instance: Miss State might be super important in whether or not Ole Miss gets hammered by the NCAA. That’s funny no matter where you land on the issues, y’all, because bitter rivalry is bitter rivalry even if it guarantees some bitter revenge down the road. There will be, especially since no relationship in a state as small as Mississippi exists more than two degrees from another. That proximity applies to bagmen and coaches, too.
It’s also funny to watch Ole Miss load up on as much Memphis wrestling-style bluster as they can in telling the NCAA to kiss their ass. It’s pure Jerry Lawler, right down to doing it on video for all the world to see. Putting up that much theatrical bluster and defiance in the face of authority is a tradition in the South. So is ultimately caving under force to a system they know they are better off never leaving—but only after a protracted tantrum, and a lot of collateral damage to those most invested, and yet least able to escape.