Who is the NCAA? It is every college, every college coach, every athletic director, and every president of a university. It is not the players on teams, for these names, which are what draws the crowds and earns universities billions of dollars a year, change every year and these players are formally amateurs. What are the practical reasons for this scam, and what is the reason why universities perpetuate this scam to this day, with thick rulebooks that no one obeys that makes a mockery of college athletics and that makes already cynical people even more cynical?
Let us start with a scandal. Any number of scandals will do, but let us take one, a new one. Syracuse basketball has apparently at least ten known cases (at this time) of students who have failed drug tests without repercussions, including as many as three or four drug tests . Now, according to self-appointed rules by Syracuse University itself (each university has the discretion to choose its own drug policy), there were to be punishments for failed drug tests. The penalties seem very similar to the demerit system at the school where I teach. First demerit is a warning (same with Syracuse’s system), second demerit results in suspensions and a loss of privileges (same with Syracuse’s system). Third demerit results in being expelled from school (or kicked off the team in Syracuse’s case) unless (in both cases) there is a decision to be merciful, with our resulting in nearly automatic removal. Syracuse voluntarily adopted these rules to gain public goodwill and then ignored them.
Why did Syracuse have such rules in the first place? Strict rules give the appearance of discipline, even if they’re not as strict as one might expect. (I mean, three failed drug tests and you’re out? These people are way more merciful than anything I’ve ever been associated with. I guess having athletic talent really does give you lots of benefits.) That makes people comfortable paying lots of money to cheer on the dog and pony show of college athletics, where universities attempt to profit off of the labor of serfs and indentured servants who are amateurs before they are able to make any money off of their efforts.
Again, why are these people amateurs in the first place? Many of them are good enough to play professionally, and many of them know this (which probably makes them resent the rules and bureaucracy of college athletics; I know I would resent it). It is hard not to resent being forced to obey large books full of rules while other people make money off of your talent. It’s hard to stomach being bullied by some mediocre coach who makes nearly a million dollars a year because of your skills on the court, all while you have to be content with working (hard) to keep up an academic scholarship and are prohibited from receiving any “extra benefits” that might help you or your (probably poor and struggling) family out, all while hypocrites praise the purity of the amateur sport as opposed to the professional game.
What is the endgame? College sports have proven time and time again it is hopelessly corrupt. Coaches hire talent scouts to push athletes their ways. Shady agents and boosters make millions of dollars, as do coaches, and pay out players or look the other way when others do it so as not to rock the boat or jeopardize their success. Programs fire their coaches for losing, but act like they are the victims when they are caught for what everyone else is doing and given ritualistic punishments that hurt later athletes and teams, all so college athletics can retain the illusion that they take their rules seriously, even while they show by their actions that they do not.
There are only a few ways to end this hypocrisy. For one, end the charade of amateurism. The only amateurs are those who think they are fooling anyone with their elaborate con game. Pay college athletes for their effort. It doesn’t have to be a massive salary, but it should be enough to allow athletes to receive some rewards for what they are due. Also, athletes should have the rights to their images and names and numbers being used to profit schools, and athletes and their families should have the right to make contracts with agents and work to secure their potential futures for their own benefit.
The consequences of this are potentially serious. Once the game is up, college athletics will become taxable. Right now, corrupt bowl commissioners and college presidents and athletic directors make millions of dollars per year tax free because of the amateurism clause. As state and federal governments start to feel cash strapped even more, and as the corruption of college athletics gets even more obvious, expect this tax exempt status to be threatened. If churches can feel the heat from the IRS, universities and colleges deserve even more of the heat. Here’s hoping it finds those who are most worthy of it.