I finally got around to reading Taylor Branch’s feature The Shame of College Sports in the Atlantic (published on Friday, September 18, 2011). It’ s brilliantly researched, neatly crafted, incredibly informative, and unfortunately, tragically flawed in its overall point.
Branch, like many of those either directly, indirectly, or several levels removed, who stand to profit from college athletics, sets out to make a couple of key points: First, that the NCAA is a sham of an organization with no legitimate authorization to punish universities partaking in collegiate athletics and second, that college athletes – chiefly football and basketball players – should be paid to play in college given the insane amounts of money that they generate by way of their game day exploits. Both points are valid debatable points, but like anyone who profits from collegiate sports, Branch avoids the dead moose in the room in regards to amateurism in college sports. If you pay college players, then they become professionals and have no business on college campuses.
OK…for the record, I do not want to see college football and basketball go away. BUT, the point is that if you have an issue with amateurism and oversight of amateurism, then you really need not subscribe to college athletics.
WARNING: Lengthy sidebar here
Not that it is a big deal, but I thought it was interesting that Taylor Branch’s themes are that the NCAA is bad, has no real authority to go after cheating schools and that they are the problem not the cheating schools themselves AND that the college athletes are the stars of a billion dollar industry and should be paid money to don their school’s colors. Branch is a known voice in news reporting – a Pulitzer winner. And…drumroll…a 1968 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hmmmmmm. Wonder what his agenda is for this piece?
Let’s see…UNC football has rewritten the guide to cheating in collegiate athletics over the last few years, got caught, and are about to be punished by the NCAA. Further, the athletes who were at the center of the Carolina cheating scandal were basically professionally paid football players who could care less about silly things like school or NCAA rules. Yet, the angle is about the cheating or cheaters but rather those who would try to hold schools like his beloved alma mater to task for their behaviors. Notice how the failed to use his alma mater as an example yet went to great lengths to highlight the transgressions of Ohio State, USC, and Auburn – who hasn’t even been notified of anything by the NCAA in regards to Cam Newton.
He paints the great Dr. Bill Friday – a man I am sure he holds as beyond approach – as lamenting where sports went wrong, though everyone knows Friday has long-been part of a building wave of transgressions politically, academically, and morally centered in Chapel Hill. Branch really skipped on an opportunity to underscore his credibility and instead, in playing to the needs of his alma mater, sold out like many tied to Chapel Hill do when faced with a chance to do the right thing. Hey maybe you can ask the esteemed Dr. Friday about his actions to try to keep ECU down – at the expense of North Carolina’s own citizens – on every front over the years.
End of long sidebar.
So, back to this impassioned plea to basically pay college football and basketball players. Helloooooo…really?
Wouldn’t college athletics then cease to be amateur athletics and become professional? Duh…maybe I am missing something but isn’t that what the NBA and NFL are?
Everyone in the equation – including media – have a stake in this big money machine and want to protect their own piece of the pie, so none of them actually focuses on the obvious: If you want to pay them – and I don’t mean give them a cost of living stipend – then pay them as minor league athletes and GET basketball and football OUT OF THE SCHOOL.
I know…would really suck to have to brag about your very own own Columbus-Area Buckeyes or your Chapel Hill-Area Tar Heels now wouldn’t it?
Fat cat boosters – who obviously have way too much money on their hands – wouldn’t really get all jacked up about winning if they couldn’t brag about how their school is better than your’s now would they. Ego…right…at the heart of it, all collegiate football is is a bunch of extremely wealthy graduates of a school willing to forego donating big dollars to things like – ohhh I don’t know, cancer research –I know, that is really an unfair shot as I personally know many of these folks give a ton of money on all fronts – or academic endeavors.
Look at our good friends over at UNC…threatening to withhold money from the athletics fund because the chancellor dared to fire a football coach who over-didn’t saw a thing a collegiate football program that very likely may have set a new record for breadth and depth of cheating in the sport. How dare a university try to patch up its shattered integrity by firing a coach whose program drew 9 – count them – 9 major violations. Call me silly, but when I want to watch professional football, I tune in on Sundays.
Now, I do agree that the NCAA is a broken, arbitrary, dirty organization whose power has corrupted it just as much as the boosters at the schools that are re-defining cheating every day across the country. If your are going to oversee the laws, then dammit, oversee them with blind objectivity. That SMU was fried as bad as they were and schools like Ohio State, Auburn, and UNC are facing some bogus penalties that amount to really only underscoring the point that cheating has proven to be a good recipe for greatness in the long run. Vacating some wins and reducing the scholarships by 3 or 4 a year is well worth the millions made during a successful, cheating-filled run of victories. Self impose a light penalty while the NCAA refuses to penalize the teams by taking away television really amounts to nothing. Stealing in plain sight and the NCAA is right there with these schools, hands in the till.
Yes, Taylor, a well researched piece, but the shame of college sports is that it has not protected the very amateurism that made it great. To say that not paying college athletes is a black eye on the sports in college is to buy into the idea of trashing amateur athletics as a whole and if you do that, then you need to remove it from college campuses. No, I say fix the NCAA either through more empowerment or by bringing in a viable agency and return amateurism to its rightful state.