The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not have the best reputation in the national media. Within the last month, the hairy situation and botched enforcement job at the University of Miami has caused a firestorm of criticism to be thrown at the NCAA — especially its head honcho, Mark Emmert.

The NCAA’s role as a governing body over most collegiate sports in this country is largely ignored. It’s a logo you see in the corner of the screen during March Madness, but they actually do serve a purpose.

What?! They do things?! I would venture to argue that they do a lot, and that they do a lot of good. They fail from time to time as all human institutions do, but people in the national sports media seem very quick to throw stones at an organization whose purpose they do not fully grasp.

The situation at Miami is bad. You cannot have your enforcement staff go down there and start paying lawyers for depositions and expect to get away with it. NCAA rules are not United States law.

The thing is, the NCAA recognized the wrong done in a big way. They fired their VP of Enforcement over the debacle and President Emmert had this to say: (amongst other things) “This is something that’s an embarrassment to our association and our staff — this is not a good situation at all.”

And now people are saying firing the VP of Enforcement was like firing your defensive coordinator and expecting to suddenly have a good defense. There are surely still those calling for President Emmert’s head on a stake.

The good news about the NCAA is that it is just that, an association. It is an association of 1,281 institutions from across the United States and Canada. Associations are governed by their members. If member institutions want change at the executive level, change will happen.

So often this is misunderstood and the NCAA is seen as “them” and your personal member institution is seen as “us” and they are pitted against each other.

Call me naïve, but the idea that the NCAA does everything in its power to carry out its mission of protecting student athletes is not an unbelievable one to me. Sure it has its problems both externally and internally, but at the end of the day, the hatred for an institution that tries to get everyone to play by the rules is insane.

Please don’t think I am just blindly defending an institution that admittedly leaves much to be desired in certain areas. I do feel that a deeper grasp of how governance works at the NCAA is necessary for everyone from casual football fan to university chancellor. No one understands it, not even long-time staff members of the NCAA.

The big, bad NCAA is faced with more openly brutal scrutiny than I can remember in my lifetime. And yet it is the institution that makes the college sports world go round and for that we are eternally grateful.

If they do what they say they’re doing and continue to make sure they play by the rules as they enforce the rules back on their members, there is no reason not to entertain the idea of trusting them again.

After all, the NCAA is a nonprofit association of institutions of higher education. That really doesn’t sound so scary, does it?

Liz Beadle is a writer for the Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every other week. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.

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