Sep 18, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Maybe soon the charade will end.
For far too long, the people who run college sports in America has driven a fictional narrative about humble “student-athletes” playing for love of the game and nothing else. Fans bought it. The media bought it. We all wanted to believe it.
Then the cold truth trickles out. Billion-dollar contracts for that basketball tournament in March. Million-dollar coaches making far more than any professor ever will. Conference shifts containing no human sense, except for the involved parties and their offended sensibilities.
And throw in the scandals – oh, those scandals. Shady recruiting, extra benefits ranging from tattoos in Columbus to lap dances on South Beach, test scores inflated to maintain a player’s eligibility – you could fill this column with the allegations.
Or you could just read a pair of devastating pieces, dropped in the same week, that both expose the whole NCAA system as something close to slavery.
Taylor Branch, author of a landmark trilogy of books about the civil rights movement, put together a remarkable article in The Atlantic that puts the whole NCAA mess into a historical context.
Meticulously, Branch lays out how the NCAA gained enormous power, preventing the “student-athlete” they care so much about from gaining any legal rights. He also explains how the major universities are rank hypocrites, celebrating amateurism while, at the same time, raking in the television millions offered for football and men’s basketball.
Ultimately, Branch concludes that the athletes should be paid. And one of those former athletes concurs with him in a report just as enlightening and thoughtful.
Ramogi Huma, who played at UCLA in the 1990s, leads an advocacy group of more than 14,000 former college athletes. He, along with professors at Drexel University, put together a study that says a major-college football player would be worth $121,000 if valued in professional terms, more than double that ($265,000) for basketball.
As such, said Huma, what colleges should do is take the massive TV money and put it into a “lockbox” of sorts. Then, if players use up their eligibility but want to finish their education, they can get that money. Or, if they graduate, they receive the money, no questions asked. This proposal is not “paying” players, because they would not get the money up front.
Given that only a small fraction of athletes even sign pro contracts, much less appear in the big leagues, there’s an incentive for the other 98 or so percent of them to stay in school and, when they graduate, have a nice head start, a reward for their labor. How novel.
This means, of course, that it will never happen. It makes too much sense, appeals too much to common decency and fairness, and who wants that anyway?
Both Branch and Huma, through their different approaches, arrive at the same conclusion about the inherent contradictions present in college sports, and the total lack of credibility that the NCAA and college presidents have on the treatment of the “student-athlete”.
Think of it – on the one hand, the schools want these athletes (mostly African-American, by the way) to shut up and be grateful that they’re getting a free ride, even if it’s only on a yearly basis and subject to arbitrary removal. On the other hand, they grab football millions from ESPN, basketball billions from CBS and Turner, and share none of it with their hired help.
Contrary to the popular myth, the vast, vast majority of college athletes are not stupid. They see how their work draws in legions of fans who buy all kinds of merchandise which benefit the school, but not them. So can you blame them for wanting a little something more?
Yet every time one of these allegations or scandals bubble up, we brand them “cheaters”, though I hardly see how getting a tattoo or a lap dance has anything to do with improving your performance on game day. It’s just our tendency to apply an impossible standard to others that we would never, ever apply to ourselves.
Now these athletes are really getting bounced around in conference shifts. And as we all know now, Syracuse, figuring it had no choice, has bolted the Big East for the ACC, a move that has its own long set of implication that we’ll get to next week in this space.
All the while, tens of thousands of college athletes witness the saga, knowing that the billions exchanged in their field will never trickle down to them, even though doing so would at least make the whole enterprise a bit less smelly.
Next week: Part II, Syracuse moves to the ACC – what does that mean?