By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) The NCAA has long been the antithesis of Occam’s razor. There’s a good chance it understands that college athletes, particularly in the big-money generating football and basketball, would be better off receiving some sort of compensation for their labor beyond the ruse of the “education” they’re afforded. But the NCAA isn’t likely to admit, that because the current feudal system is insanely profitable and all it has ever known.
Following report from Pat Forde and Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports detailing a federal investigation suggesting rules violations by 20 major basketball programs and even more players involving loans from agents and other benefits to those players and family members, NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement:
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules. Following the Southern District of New York’s indictments last year, the NCAA Board of Governors and I formed the independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to provide recommendations on how to clean up the sport. With these latest allegations, it’s clear this work is more important now than ever. The Board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity. We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts.”
As over-dramatic as “if we want college sports in America” is from Emmert, he unintentionally makes an interesting point. The evidence in the Yahoo report and another report from ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach about Arizona coach Sean Miller being recorded on an FBI wiretap discussing paying $100,000 to get DeAndre Ayton to play for the Wildcats shouldn’t be all that surprising. The shady culture of college sports has been known for decades. “The Program” and “Blue Chips” were released in theaters in 1993 and 1994, respectively. What some are treating as earth-shattering information released Friday is really more of a tugging of the mall Santa’s beard and acting surprised afterward.
In 2014, Stephen Godfrey did a deep dive into football recruits receiving cash and wrote for SB Nation:
This is the arrangement in high-stakes college football, though of course not every player is paid for. Providing cash and benefits to players is not a scandal or a scheme, merely a function. And when you start listening to the stories, you understand the function can never be stopped.
But the NCAA and the fundamentalist fans of perceived amateurism have long refused to accept that. Then on Saturday, Emmert told CBS that: “Some of our rules have been from different age and it’s reached a crescendo. We need to go in and look at the rules and see how it fits for current context. We’re really serious about making really systemic change starting with spring and going forward.”
Is it wrong to read that as Emmert admitting, even accidentally, that the old chestnut of the purity of the college games is a sham and long has been? (Again, we’ve known this, though.) That he’s in charge of a draconian organization the exploits young men and women for billions distributed among people in suits who aren’t playing the games?
The “current context” — current being decades now — is that college athletes in revenue-generating sports are going to get money while still in school, because they’d have to be brain damaged not to. Besides any political context of attempts in recent years by athletes to push for potential unionization and fairer compensation based on the money they produce for schools and the NCAA, players with legit pro aspirations understand the faux-loyalty of those schools to them.
So there certainly won’t be much crisis of conscience if given the opportunity to better support themselves and family members prior to inking pro contracts. If you’re going to the NFL or NBA anyway, what fear do you have of getting punished for loans or gifts in college if that isn’t going to affect your job future? Ayton is still going to be in the NBA despite all this (and should be now if not for the NBA’s bad minimum age rule).
Emmert and Co. are finally realizing this, it would seem, even if they won’t word it as such. If the rules are oppressive and allow for corruption, there’s going to be corruption (though who’s actually a victim when a 19-year-old gets a few thousand dollars from an agent is a puritanical argument anyway). If your game is married to a world of handlers and shoe contracts that begin the process of making kids commodities even before high school, you can’t then lament money trumping “love of the game.” Especially when “the game” is way beyond football and basketball.
So we’ve reached the point where the most obvious answer seems to be getting closer to being examined by the NCAA. The avatar of college hoops, Dick Vitale, is even calling for it.
“(The NCAA) is making zillions of dollars … why not allow it,” Vitale told TMZ Sports on Friday.
“Let them get paid. I really believe that in my heart, because this has gotten totally out of control right now.”
Vitale joins his ESPN college hoops colleague Jay Bilas, who has advocated for paying players for years. Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes college players need better compensation. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told the Chicago Tribune on Saturday that if he was still playing college ball that he’d like to get paid, though he understands “the other argument as well.”
But the other argument is to keep droning about amateurism and scholarships and all the other bad faith arguments that create the inevitable situation that has colleges now dealing with the FBI. Compensating college athletes better isn’t necessarily a simple operation, but acknowledging that it needs to happen is.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.