Riddle or Rattle: The Really Shady NCAA

What lies, cheats, and steals, but doesn’t pay? Nope, it’s not Cam Newton. It’s the good old NCAA. 

By Kent Caraway

The NCAA has two jobs. It enforces its own rules, and it organizes tournaments for the colleges that it represents. The second job could be accomplished by just about anyone that the composite colleges wanted to outsource the job to, but because it is the NCAA and not just anyone, they control the lucrative TV deals for the broadcasting rights to these tournaments. This is where the real money in college athletics is, and although most of that money goes back to the colleges, the NCAA keeps a good portion for its own use.

But isn’t regulation necessary to keep college athletics competitive and free of corruption? Well no actually. Professional leagues operate surprisingly well and manage to reward the actual players for their contributions as opposed to shady regulatory agencies. Besides the NCAA’s rules are often outdated and ridiculous. Frank Deford relates an instance where a college wrestler named Joel Bauman was mandated to stop producing his own inspirational music because he was profiting from it even though it had nothing to do with his wrestling. Instead the athlete chose to quit. What’s more the NCAA’s regulations don’t get rid of corruption, they cultivate it by ignoring the real needs of college athletes and their actual contributions to the brands and sports they represent. The NCAA is a very bad representative of the reality of college sports and it is high time for colleges to seek an alternative to this ridiculous sham of an organization.

The dynamics of collegiate sports has evolved from the ancient pastimes of amateur athletes playing for bragging rights and pride. The players of college sports are bringing in massive amounts of revenue and prestige for their schools, yet these players are awarded with educational scholarships that barely cover the cost of books and tuition. Although a Division One football player runs nearly the same risk of injury as a professional player and is worth an estimated $121,000 per year to the NCAA (Huma), that player is forbidden to make a dime from his efforts or be compensated equitably for his or her actual revenue generation. Basketball players are worth even more, $265,000 on average for Division One schools. Why are these players not allowed to profit from attendance, merchandising, TV, or endorsement deals? Because the NCAA wants to maintain a culture of integrity in the collegiate sports community, or at least that’s the tagline. Its easy to support a system in the name of integrity when CBS and TBS are paying ten-point-six billion dollars a year for broadcasting rights to the NCAA basketball tournament and the NCAA is scraping off handsome profit margins as just sort of a tribute to its own existence. This culture of integrity simply does not represent the reality of college sports; the real value of the players and their contributions. What’s more, by limiting what athletes can make to zero, the NCAA ignores the real needs of these athletes and places them in a compromising position where agents and team contributors are often willing to step in and support the athletes against NCAA regulations.

When sports agents violate the rules to meet the actual needs of student athletes they are demonized and the athletes are scandalized. Why is this act of goodwill seen as corruption when the NCAA refuses to award the athletes at all and profits from them without just compensation? This is not just bad practice. It is blatant exploitation. Josh Luchs made a stir in 2010 when he revealed the breadth of this practice among players and agents in an article with Sports Illustrated. He argues that the problem is not with greedy players or exploitative agents but with the system that makes players vulnerable to such offers:

“Very few of us see the world the same way at 22 as they do at 42, which I am now,” he says. “But as far as providing loans, I … really question the morality and the ethics of the entire structure that leaves these players in a position where they have to [accept loans] if they want to not live in poverty.”

It is time to reconsider the riddle of the NCAA, and it is time to get rid of the absurd policies that keep college athletes from earning what they are actually worth.

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