From “Tatgate” at Ohio State, to the plethora of transgressions at Miami (Fla.) that read like movie scripts to the questionable at best, heinous at worst recruiting tactics of Jim Calhoun at UConn, it is apparent that college sports has reached a tipping point. The illusion that student athletes who play for-profit sports are still classified as amateurs can no longer be perpetuated by the NCAA.
On its surface, the idea of having one body oversee the 1,281 schools that compete in big-time college sports is a great idea, especially since the original goal of these sports was to promote school spirit, bolster sportsmanship and provide education to underprivileged youth. But from a 21st century perspective, it is abundantly clear that the NCAA and its policies are a microcosm of American greed and bureaucracy.
Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA, has the difficult task of trying to rein in these “renegade” schools and athletes. However, instead of acknowledging the changing landscape of college athletics, he buries his head in the sand and maintains that the system is working. What he does not confess, at least publicly, is that the NCAA is stuck in a double bind. If his institution turns a blind eye, it will be a public relations disaster, but the NCAA would continue to exist in its current capacity. Yet if they become proactive in uncovering cheaters, schools with $100 million-plus athletic budgets could theoretically meet and decide to cut ties with the NCAA, essentially killing it in the process.
For that reason, Emmert doesn’t just want this archaic system to work, he needs it to work. Even though the NCAA is a non-profit organization, it has a yearly operating budget in excess of $750 million. Emmert, like the CEOs taking big bonuses while their companies are tanking, has a base salary of $620,000. But the athletes who make the money are condemned when they attempt to reap the fruits of their labor.
College athletes, for the most part, know that they are being exploited by rich men in suits who sit in offices around the country and ask themselves how they can squeeze a little more money out of amateur athletes. Keep in mind that many of these athletes who play in sports that turn a profit come from very poor backgrounds. So when one of those athletes is approached by a booster or long-lost “uncle” and is offered money, do you think that he will turn it down? And if they take that money, should it make them any less eligible to compete? The answer, for me, is clearly no. But according to the rules established by the NCAA in 1910 and revised in the 1970s, it remains a resounding yes.
Instead of talking about how cheaters never prosper — USC, Auburn and UConn tend to disagree, by the way — Emmert needs to be proactive in understanding that not all college athletes are created equal, a fact that many will have a tough time accepting.
Take Georgetown, for example. Our basketball team has deep roots and a winning tradition. We’ve been lucky to have players like Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing, Greg Monroe and Alonzo Mourning don the Blue and Gray. Now, do any of you sports buffs want to tell me about any famous field hockey players or rowers who have represented our esteemed institution? That’s what I thought.
So let’s go a step further. Why shouldn’t Iverson be entitled to more benefits than the left fielder for our baseball team? Sure, they both love their school, but one is perhaps the most important money-making figure at our institution, while the other is playing a sport for pure enjoyment with hopes of getting a fantastic education at a more affordable cost. Since we live in a capitalist society, it’s naive to believe that both are entitled to the same type of benefits or even want the same things from Georgetown. You can call me a cynic, but the overall operating budget of the NCAA has more than doubled in one decade, from $326 million in 2001 to $757 million in 2011. The more we examine the facts, the clearer this case becomes: Money, not an athlete’s well-being, is the engine that drives the NCAA.
Since the business of college sports will keep expanding at an exponential rate, the NCAA will eventually have to change its procedures. It is simply untenable to continue this kind of hypocrisy and hope that college sports fans are OK with watching their institutions get dragged through the mud while the NCAA rakes in the money. But until that happens, I’m sure Emmert will be content with watching a couple of SEC or Big 10 football games and counting the revenue that those “amateur” athletes are making for his and the NCAA’s benefit.
Matt Emch is a sophomore in the College. Riding the Pine appears every Friday.