NCAA breaks rules for ‘DWTS,’ and that’s progress

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - SPORTS - Nancy Ar­mour

Hal­lelu­jah. For once, the NCAA show­ing some com­mon sense.

Rather than its usual my­opic de­vo­tion to its an­ti­quated rule book, the NCAA has given its bless­ing to Notre Dame guard Arike Ogun­bowale’s par­tic­i­pa­tion on the new sea­son of Danc­ing with the Stars. Not only that, she can keep any prize money she wins, as well as that cov­eted mir­ror ball.

If this seems like a no-brainer, it is. One of the most-watched shows on TV fea­tur­ing Ogun­bowale in its cast is noth­ing but pos­i­tive pub­lic­ity for Notre Dame, women’s bas­ket­ball, col­lege ath­let­ics and, yes, Ogun­bowale and her ca­reer.

Which is why it’s so stun­ning the NCAA went along with it.

If you read the NCAA rules — By­law 12.4.1, to be ex­act — Ogun­bowale shouldn’t be able to par­tic­i­pate. NCAA rules pro­hibit ath­letes from prof­it­ing on any­thing that re­sults from “the pub­lic­ity, rep­u­ta­tion, fame or per­sonal fol­low­ing that he or she has ob­tained be­cause of ath­let­ics abil­ity.” It’s safe to say that Ogun­bowale wasn’t on ABC’s radar un­til she hit those buzzer-beat­ing three­p­oint­ers to beat Con­necti­cut in the Fi­nal Four and then clinch the na­tional cham­pi­onship for Notre Dame.

But the NCAA found a loop­hole and is giv­ing Ogun­bowale a hand to help her squeeze through it. She can’t do any pro­mo­tional work for the show, other than an­nounc­ing she’s on it, be­cause that would cap­i­tal­ize on her “ath­let­ics abil­ity.” Any prize money she wins would be the re­sult of her danc­ing achieve­ments, how­ever, and thus would be hers to keep.

Is it hyp­o­crit­i­cal for the NCAA to sub­vert its own rules? Of course it is. Is it the right thing to do? Ab­so­lutely. is

The NCAA’s rules are from a by­gone era, when col­lege ath­let­ics were truly am­a­teur sports. But they’re a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try now. The NCAA, con­fer­ences, schools, coaches — they’re all get­ting rich off of “am­a­teur ath­let­ics” while the stu­dents re­spon­si­ble for gen­er­at­ing all that money get only a schol­ar­ship in re­turn.

That’s not to say a schol­ar­ship is worth­less. Far from it. For some ath­letes, it’s the only way they can af­ford to go to col­lege. But it’s long past time to stop pre­tend­ing that ath­letes don’t de­serve to reap the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of the many, many, many mil­lions they’re bring­ing in.

Purists howl at the idea of any ad­di­tional com­pen­sa­tion for col­lege ath­letes, claim­ing they’ll be no dif­fer­ent from pro­fes­sional ath­letes. Few are sug­gest­ing it go that far, how­ever. Most would be sat­is­fied with the Olympic model, where an ath­lete can profit off his or her name, im­age and like­ness.

Which brings us back to Ogun­bowale and her DWTS ap­pear­ance.

She’ll never be more pop­u­lar than she is now, grac­ing the cover of Sports Il­lus­trated and hob­nob­bing with Ellen De­Generes and Kobe Bryant. Why shouldn’t she take ad­van­tage of that? If the star of Notre Dame’s choir was asked to ap­pear in Pitch Per­fect 85, or what­ever the next se­quel in that fran­chise is, there’d be high-fiv­ing all around, not ur­gent meet­ings with lawyers and com­pli­ance of­fi­cers.

Ogun­bowale’s par­tic­i­pa­tion on DWTS is not go­ing to bring about the down­fall of col­lege ath­let­ics, and it’s re­fresh­ing to see the NCAA ac­knowl­edge that. Hyp­o­crit­i­cal, but re­fresh­ing.

If the NCAA can bend its rules for Ogun­bowale, it can — and should — do the same for ev­ery­body else.

AARON DOSTER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Notre Dame guard Arike Ogun­bowale was a hero on the bas­ket­ball court this sea­son and now takes to the dance floor.

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