Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan
If it’s broke...
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 10:09
Sometimes I regret not going to a big-time football school. What could be better than a Saturday inside the Big House at Michigan, or the Horseshoe at Ohio State, surrounded by 100,000 screaming fans? One hundred thousand people create quite an atmosphere. They also generate quite a lot of money.
Big-time college sports are great for just about everyone. They are great for you and me, the fans, who relish the traditions and the talent and the hi-def television. They’re great for students and alumni, who develop lifelong devotions to their teams. They’re great for the networks like ESPN and CBS and ABC that get high ratings and sell ads. And they’re great — ridiculously, inconceivably great — for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Big-time college sports are devastating for the athletes.
Let’s talk about South Park. On May 25, 2011, an episode aired called “Crack Baby Athletic Association.” The premise is outrageous: Cartman creates a business in which crack-addicted babies fight over a ball of crack, with the fights streamed online. The plot line is crude, but the episode offers a not-so-subtle critique of the NCAA. Cartman’s friend Kyle provides the most poignant commentary.
“What actually makes total sense about it ... is that the crack babies are finally getting some attention and the care that they need,” he says. “Because most of these babies would normally not even get out, you know?”
He goes on: “Just because we are making money doesn’t mean that those babies aren’t benefiting. It isn’t exploiting them. They’re finding a useful place in society. What’s so unethical about that?”
That ought to be the NCAA’s mission statement.
The hypocrisy of Kyle’s argument — and of the NCAA — has been exposed in recent years. The institution is corrupt. The notion of the student-athlete is a myth. Big-time college sports are big business, and the workers don’t earn a fair share.
Earlier this year, the National College Players Association determined that, at Football Bowl Subdivision schools, more than 85 percent of football and basketball players live below the federal poverty line.
The NCPA also said that, during the 2010-11 school year, players on “full” scholarships actually averaged over $3,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
And in 2010, football players at the University of Texas were worth more than $500,000 in market value, yet they lived $778 below the poverty line in the 2010-11 academic year.
Last week, Sports Illustrated released a report detailing misconduct in the Oklahoma State University football program. Dozens of former players spoke of under-the-table cash paid to athletes, tutors writing their papers and professors giving Bs to players who deserved Fs.
But the most troubling revelation was about what happens after graduation. SI explains: “Player after player has been driven out of Stillwater, [Oklahoma], returning to worlds they had hoped to escape. Some have been incarcerated, others live on the streets, many have battled drug abuse, and a few have attempted suicide.”
A good first step toward justice would be to pay the athletes. Paychecks would at least help debunk the student-athlete myth and offer players a small slice of the pie. But that’s a concession, not a solution. It does not change the fact that the athletes are pawns in a moneymaking machine.
Admittedly, a long-term answer is hard to foresee. Here’s mine: Scrap the entire system. Create the equivalent of baseball’s minor leagues for football and basketball. Abolish big-time college sports. It sounds like a pipe dream, but only drastic change can fix the nightmare the NCAA has created.