The NCAA’s exploitation of young men, mostly African American, from impoverished inner city neighborhoods has finally entered the conscience of the American sports fan. The “tipping point” may have been last year when the NCAA signed an $11,000,000,000 multiyear contract for the broadcasting rites for “March Madness.” That’s a difficult number for most people to comprehend and it got many peoples attention.
As with any business, those responsible for developing a great product reap the rewards of their efforts. In this instance I am referring to the Coaches and Athletic Directors who are now receiving multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts. The product being sold to consumers is, of course, the athletic talent of those who play the game. And it is a great product!
The Coaches and Athletic Directors of major college programs have become by far the highest paid faculty members at most of the Division I “educational institutions.” And perhaps they should be because they and the players generate staggering amounts of revenue for their employers and the NCAA. All the while, the NCAA continues to claim that it is all about education and not a business. (It was down right painful to watch, Mark Emmert, the current president of the NCAA, trying to defend the NCAA’s position in an interview on the PBS program NOVA. The words came out but you could see that he really doesn’t believe it. The man has a conscience. He must know how Public Defenders feel proclaiming the innocence of their client who has murdered someone in front of a dozen witnesses. A difficult task at best.)
College Athletics is a “business” but there are major differences between the business of College Athletics and all other businesses. The profits are earned free of tax. Private individuals can make tax-deductible capital contributions to the business and the employees, who actually play the game, receive no compensation other than their scholarship. (And the scholarship is only good as long as the athlete performs up to the coach’s expectations.)
All the while the colleges can use the players’ name, likeness, video replays, video games etc. etc. to generate revenue without paying one dime of compensation to the players.
Back in 1998 a talented poor kid from Los Angeles named Andre Miller led the University of Utah’s basketball team to the Final Four in Dallas Texas. His mother wanted to see her son play for the national championship so she road a Greyhound Bus for 26 hours, in order to be there. USA Today wrote the story to show just how dedicated this mom was to her son. But what I realized as I was reading this story was that if the school or some alum had bought her a ticket to Dallas on Southwest Airlines the NCAA would have declared Andre Miller ineligible. I’m betting that no executive from the NCAA has ever ridden a Greyhound Bus half way across the country to see a game.
Since that time the business of the NCAA has grown into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, but yet the exploitation of these young men continues unabated. I am not so cynical as to believe this was all by design. But it is very real.
Professional leagues, the NBA and the NFL love the system because the college programs provide a cost free minor league system for player development. They were happy to collude with the NCAA by requiring players to play at least one year for the NCAA before moving on to the pros. How can that not be a violation of human rights. A quick look at the NBA All Star roster list many players, such a Kobe and LeBron, who chose not to work for the NCAA before joining the NBA.
Everyone, the NCAA, the Schools, the Coaches, the Media, are all making money. Everyone except the players who make it all happen. When I tell other sports fans how it works their reaction is “I didn’t know that” or “you must be kidding.” But it is the truth, and a huge black mark on our institutions of higher learning. We should all push to see a change soon.
The NCAA must clean up its act or they will self-destruct. Can you imagine the consequences if a handful of star players refuse to play basketball in March. It’s going to happen and I would love to give a guaranteed scholarship to any player willing to take a stand on this issue.