Posted on 10-02-2010
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

A pending federal class action case could change the landscape of college sports.  See link.  This case does not deal with the issue of compensating current athletes.  The issue is whether a one year scholarship gave the NCAA the perpetual right to market a college player’s name and likeness and keep the proceeds.

The concept of amateur athletics is steeped in class issues.  The wealthy and upper middle-class idealized the amateur as a true lover of the sport.  Needless to say it helps when your pocket books are so comfortably lined that you can take time off to indulge in your hobby.  This is a luxury unavailable to the economic underclass.  The NCAA fudges the issue by permitting its members to offer academic scholarships to athletes with the understanding that they will not be paid.  The system probably works for the non-revenue sports which do not attract as intense  a fan and alumni following.  In the revenue sports (particularly men’s basketball and football) the system is a joke.

The rules prohibiting players have frequently been broken with punishment being meted out for the most blatant violations.  The NCAA’s enforcement mechanism is already somewhat a joke given its propensity to make an example of smaller programs while giving the major programs (the cash cows) a slap on the wrist.  And herein lies the problem.  The NCAA pretends that college athletes in major college football and basketball are their for an education.  The reality is that major college football and basketball are essentially minor league training leagues for the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.  Insult is added to the injury when major colleges enroll athletes in lightweight majors and courses that do them no good (assuming they graduate) in the job market.  Coaching salaries at major programs run into millions of dollars and successful a athletics program is a cash cow for these schools.

The myth that these athletes are there for an education also results in a bunch of rules to protect college programs.  Transferring athletes have to sit out for a year (something other students do not have to) and transfers within a conference have more draconian consequences.  Meanwhile coaches come and go as you please.  Scholarships are on a year to year basis and totally at the discretion of the coach.  So a hard working player who maintains his grades can still be cut because he did not have the athletic talent the coach thought he did.  Coaches regularly oversign players beyond the permitted scholarship numbers and can trim their rosters with no consequences if too many players qualify.  All of these are the hallmarks of a commercial and not an educational venture.

Then there are NCAA double standards for two sport athletes who turn professional in one of them.  University of Colorado football player Jeremy Bloom happened to be an Olympic caliber skier.  But to afford to ski competitively he had to turn professional which means accepting endorsements.  Seeing this as a backdoor to allowing players being paid the NCAA terminated his college football career.  Meanwhile it is possible for college football players to play professional (generally minor league) baseball.  So in 1998 the Texas Rangers (owned by University of Texas alumnus Tom Hicks) purchased the rights to University of Texas running back Ricky Williams (who everyone knew would play pro football in the future).  This is perfectly fine with the NCAA.

The professional leagues also encourage this fiction of the NCAA’s academic mission with arbitrary minimum ages for entering athletes.  After all they have a good thing going.  They get a minor league system they do not have to pay for and protect themselves from the desire to draft an athletic specimen who still needs to refine his skills.  So they prate on about the value of an education and player maturity.  One should note that similar concerns are rarely expressed for sports like tennis, gymnastics and golf dominated by white middle class kids.

The solution to this is simple though a bit expensive.  Create a genuine minor league system and/or remove the arbitrary age limits for playing in the professional leagues.  The success of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James makes the basketball age limit even more offensive.  The kids who have not matured yet or cannot hack it at the next level will go to college.  College basketball does have cause to tremble, since more kids will consider the path taken by Brandon Jennings who skipped the sham of one year in college to play in Europe.

Most college athletes will never get a chance to play professional sports.  Careers are often cut short by injury, whims of coaches and a lack of talent to play at the next level.  Given the NCAA’s limp enforcement of academic standards for major programs it seems even more egregious to permit them to keep raking the money from their former indentured servants.

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(1) Comment   


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