Rick Reilly wrote a great piece for ESPN.com about a gambling addict at the start of the NCAA basketball tournament to remind his readers that this time of year isn’t fun for everyone. Reilly felt it was important that we not forget about the people who suffer while we dutifully bemuse over our busted brackets on Twitter.
I’d like to take this time to similarly bring public attention to something that could easily be forgotten during the jubilation of March Madness: the unrivaled, unmitigated, tyrannical evil of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. There is literally not a more reprehensible organization in this country.
The NCAA is a glorified slave trading conglomerate that operates with impunity under the guise of promoting academics and amateurism, and we would do well not to forget it.
This is an organization that portends to be “always there for student athletes” when, in truth, the NCAA is no more concerned about the wellbeing of its so-called student athletes than the slave master is concerned about the wellbeing of his chattel.
This supposedly nonprofit organization makes money hand over fist on the backs of its players who are prohibited from seeing a dime of it. March Madness is the most glaring example.
In 2010, CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting paid $771 million to the NCAA for television rights to the 2011 men’s basketball tournament alone. That’s more than three-quarters of a billion dollars and the athletes who are making the shots, taking the charges and effectively doing all of the work will not now, nor ever, get even a sniff of it.
Television contracts are just the tip of the NCAA’s free-money iceberg. In 2011 the Atlantic reported that following the example set by schools like Ohio State, which in 2009 bundled all its promotional rights—souvenirs, stadium ads, shoe deals—and outsourced them to an international sports marketer for a guaranteed $11 million a year, the NCAA began to exploit its vault of college sports on film. For just $29.99, fans can now purchase DVDs and NCAA On Demand and own their favorite NCAA games. Even though they have since left college, the former athletes in the videos get nothing.
The NCAA also licenses its product through IMG College to video game manufacturer Electronic Arts (EA). In 2010 the company paid more than $35 million in royalties to the NFL players union to use the names and likenesses of players in its NFL Madden video game series. The NCAA players got nothing, despite EA selling a reported 2.5 million copies of its NCAA football game in 2008.
That’s by design. The NCAA makes athletes sign away their rights in Part IV of its “Student-Athlete Statement” for Division I, which states that athletes must give away “your name or picture … to promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs” in exchange for the right to play.
The so-called student athletes also get no remuneration for the injuries they sustain while playing in college. Former players who aren’t part of the lucky 1 percent to make it to the big time of the NFL or NBA don’t even get their medical bills paid by the institutions once they’ve left school and aren’t eligible for worker’s compensation as part of the code. After all, almost all of them are going pro in something other than sports.
And should these players attempt to receive any sort of compensation from their play, by, let’s say, selling their jerseys, signing memorabilia or even licensing their own name, the NCAA cartel punishes them and their academic institution with absurd sanctions for violating the supposed tenets of amateurism.
Some people think we need the NCAA to continue watching sports the way we do now, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The insignificance of the association was proven by the 1984 case “NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma” in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the NCAA’s football contracts with television as well as all future contracts as an illegal restraint of trade that harmed colleges and viewers. Since then schools and conferences have negotiated independently with TV networks and I’d say college football has far from fallen apart.
There’s a difference between corruption and unadulterated evil and when it comes to the latter the NCAA is it.
That’s not to say the schools themselves are any better. The institutions have pimped their players out for every dime they could, taking money for everything from the shoes their players are forced to wear to naming rights for the stadiums they play in (I’m looking at you Florida Atlantic University).
Make no mistake, what these kids do is a job. Players at even the lesser known athletic programs put in at least 40-50 hours of work each week to do what’s required of them as so-called student athletes. Sure, they are awarded a free dormitory and a meal plan, but then so were slaves. And as for the supposedly free education they get, it might mean something if the athletes were actually getting it.
A report for the Boston Globe found that for the third straight year in the 68-team field, 21 teams had Black graduation rates below 50 percent. Some schools, like the University of Florida, graduated 0 percent of their Black players.
This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Colleges promote, through financial incentives and payments to coaches, the athletic success of programs while offering an embarrassingly paltry sum for academic accomplishment.
A recent article by former NBA player and former U.S. Representative Tom McMillen and Education Secretary Arne Duncan reviewed the contracts of more than 50 football and basketball coaches in major conferences and noted that athletic performance incentives in the contracts average $600,000, compared to $52,000 for incentives promoting academic performance.
This was precisely the culture of disservice and malfeasance the NCAA was created to prevent when it was established on March 31, 1906 as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States. Today, rather than looking out for student athletes, the organization seems solely consumed with making sure none of them see a dime for their troubles and that any who do are summarily and publicly punished.
The cartel was encapsulated best by one of its own. In a note of hypocritical perfection, former NCAA President Walter Byers summed up the state of the organization in his book “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes,” by writing “Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”
Sounds about right.