After reading "Why firing Mark Emmert would not be enough to fix the NCAA" and "3 Reasons not to compare College Athletes to victims" I decided to write my thoughts. 5,000 words later, I decided to edit my thoughts down to 3600 words. But first, a brief recap of the two articles.
Professional Lawyer Robert Big Wheel felt the NCAA won't be fixed until amateurism was dropped, student-athletes are paid and casually compared the NCAA to a plantation.
Our very own Tim Riordan countered with the opposite view, comparisons to slavery and sweat shop labour are hyperbole. He recommended amateurism for those who wish to be amateurs, and unhampered access to professional sports for those that want to play professionally.
Both good points, both very popular, let me put my spin on them.
Do I believe that student-athletes should be compensated? Yes
Do I believe that student athletes deserve to be compensated? No
Do I believe the NCAA/Slave/Plantation/Sweatshop metaphor is apt or hyperbole? I believe it's both. The idea that the NCAA is infallible and unstoppable creates a hopeless slave situation. That is important, because during actual slave times, slaves could have rebelled with numbers, but the idea that it futile among other things preventing any substantial rebellion. However, student athletes do have the power either to gain an education or to fight for whatever else they want. They have the power, they are not slaves.
Do I believe compensation is the most important issue for the NCAA? No, I think #1 issue is the achievement gap for Black male student athletes. I think the #2 issue is while gross scholarships are equal, net benefit from those scholarships are very inequitable, they favor the rich and punish the poor.
Do I support unhampered acces to professional sports for those that want to play professionally? No, I think access to the NFL, that waives a chance at re-establishing NCAA eligibility would trap many Black male athletes on the outside looking in of both the NFL and the NCAA.
With that out of the way, I'll go in depth to the reason why the NCAA isn't to blame, we should blame you and your school for the problems we have. Then I'll talk about compensation and why we should blame the student's and not the NCAA for their problems.
1) Your University Is The Problem
I have been fortunate to be employed at Universities for most of my young career. They are great places to work, and you get to help students achieve their dreams every day. There is that ugly business side however, now more than ever. The recession hit Universities hard, especially the public ones. If you didn't know, at every University the unofficial motto is: Cash Rules Everything Around Me, CREAM get the money, dollar dollar bills ya'll.
Do Universities use cash to manipulate students? Yes, all the time, I have my hands in that. Do Universities take advantage of students? Oh god yes, I don't do as much of this as I used to, but it's part of the business. Have I ever been in a position where I had to choose between a student's success and a profitable business decision? No, I'm thankful for that.
What can students do to protect themselves from the institution? They can educate themselves on the issues, speak out as an individual, organize and speak out as a group, and/or ultimately shop around, and take their talents to another University. I feel students do not take advantage of their power as a consumer, when it comes to choosing and staying at a college, but they should.
While I have never had to choose between profit and student success, do I trust that all Universities will do what's best for the student given the choice? No. This is where the student athlete is very disadvantaged. They are directly tied to a specific revenue source, especially if they are Football or Men's Basketball players. These athletes also lose the ability to truly transfer freely, they can leave, but the athletic department is allowed to say what other athletic departments they can talk to. So if you want to transfer and stay on athletic scholarship, you have to sit out a year and you might not be able to go where you want to go. Financial compensation wouldn't necessarily solve this problem, Universities are very skilled in using money to manipulate students and I doubt they would compensate athletes with no strings attached.
Universities have continued to seek the prestige and revenue associated with major Football and Basketball, culminating in the idiotic conference realignment process. The Universities are turning their backs on student athletes with more needs than a scholarship can fulfill as well on the black male athletes (and black students in general) who are being underserved in colleges.
2) The Cycle of Blame
The Cycle of Blame is namely the belief that every team is guilty EXCEPT the team(s) you root for. It is constructed by the media and by fans. Fans and especially media tend to be lazy, so we need a quick and clean way to determine whether teams or people are "clean" or "dirty" and the NCAA provides that. Duke Basketball gets a resounding clean from most not in powder blue, just as Lane Kiffin gets a resounding dirty from most.
You can look at USC, extra benefits, Reggie Bush, "Cheatey" Pete, Lane Kiffin, Michael Garrett's Hater Speech, people wanted the book thrown at USC. They celebrated when USC was punished, justice was served. Meanwhile, USC fans were appalled at the low standard of proof needed to slur the name of the program nationwide. One peculiarity was harsh bans on the football program, 2 years of bowl ban and 30 scholarships, based on the "ill will" that led the NCAA to rule that although they had no proof that Coach Todd McNair knew about Reggie Bush's benefits, he should have known. Meanwhile the NCAA knew Basketball Coach Tim Floyd funneled cash to OJ Mayo, yet the Basketball team was allowed to skate by with a one year self-imposed postseason ban. As a result, USC was able to blame the NCAA as an evil institution that ruined their team.
One program that celebrated USC's fall was Auburn, a few years later, they found themselves defending against the NCAA's investigation of the Cam Newton's recruitment. I was at USC during their judgment, where the NCAA informed USC that money paid to the family was the same as money paid to the player. Less than 2 years later, the NCAA ruled that in Auburn's situation, money paid to the family was not the same as money paid to the player.
Another program that celebrated USC's fall was Penn State. Once they tasted the justice of the NCAA, they now defend their program vehemently. A few months ago, in the court of public opinion, Miami was deemed guilty. Today, they are portrayed as victims of the NCAA's strong armed tactics. Much to the chagrin of USC fans, it was the late Miami AD Paul Dee who lead the NCAA's investigation into USC, while the Shapiro scandal brewed inside of his own campus.
The Cycle of Blame demands periodic pounds of flesh, so that we can feel secure in our own programs cleanliness and laugh and condemn other teams for their dirtiness. It's why we felt happy when USC, Penn State and Ohio State served their punishments, and why we felt so robbed when Auburn escaped scot free. As a result of our bloodlust, the NCAA has done what bureaucracies do, become really efficient at giving us what we want, and being very slow to change as demand changes. Public opinion has started to change in favor of more accountability over punishment, however, I wouldn't expect the NCAA to catch up to that anytime soon.
3) The NCAA Has Lived Long Enough To See Itself Become The Villain
The NCAA peaked in 1987. Not to mix Dark Knight with Star Wars (although that is what I am about to do) the death penalty was the NCAA's Death Star. The world destroying weapon (for good!?!) was the NCAA's greatest risk, (second greatest risk now behind sanctioning Penn State) they decided they would use a weapon so crippling that no program would dare risk an NCAA investigation.
The risk did not pay off. For one, the NCAA did permanent damage, and as an organization made up of schools to organize, count and distribute money, permanent financial damage is not exactly in the mission statement. Secondly, the money just got really good, and the risk/reward judgement skewed heavily in favor of taking risks.
The NCAA has taken on risk takers, Michigan, USC, Miami, but they can't take on everyone. In addition, with the influx of money, schools are able to arm themselves with compliance officers and legal teams to keep their programs out of trouble. As a result lower funded programs find themselves in more NCAA trouble than their big counterparts, which creates the sentiment of, "The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it's going to give Cleveland State two more years." People see that as corruption, I see it as economics.
With USC, it seems the NCAA tried a new approach, what I would describe as the "Gangster-Squad" approach. Pay for protection up front, or watch as your storefront gets destroyed. Without subpoena power, there are limits to what the NCAA could actually prove, but since USC wasn't willing to concede guilt upfront, they were going to pay anyway. This continued with Penn State's accept these death-like penalties or get the death penalty negotiation and with the unethical lawyer payment in the Miami case. The Gangster Squad approach backfired finally, which hurts the NCAA's image, but I can't fault them. They only did what they can do, to give us what we want, we wanted Miami to pay. Now we have a chance to take down a bigger bad, the NCAA, but the biggest bad is the University. Even if the NCAA dies, the Universities will replace it with a new but basically equivalent system.