Oh My Sports God, You Need To Read This!

Memorial_Stadium_medium Nebraska
Nothing about this set up says "amateur" to me...

Do you play NCAA Lacrosse?  Heck, scratch that.  Do you know what the NCAA is, and have any interest in it whatsoever?  YOU DO?!?!?!  Then you simply need to read this article, all 3,536,765,688,679 words of it.  Print it out and make it your weekend reading.  Highlight interesting portions of it.  Obviously, you can do whatever you want, but just make sure you read this article on the history of the NCAA and how it relates to the issues of college athletes getting paid, or as the case is now… college athletes NOT getting paid.  The Shame of College Sports by Taylor Branch via the Atlantic.  Great stuff.

I’ve argued in the past that it would actually make sense to do away with the “student-athlete” lie at certain levels of college sports, most notably those that produce insane amounts of revenue, like college football and basketball.  Basically, I said that certain schools no longer have “student-athletes”, they just have athletes.  And that the sums of money being made off the backs of these athletes made these sports professional in every way, except in name.  Well, that and the fact that the players weren’t being paid, at least not directly and legally.

I’ve also said that the NCAA is an advertising Mecca, and people disagreed with me on both counts, which is more than fair!  We’re looking for discussion after all.  It’s always the first step.

Well, it turns out the NCAA has been doing this type of thing for decades, and the amount of effort they have put into keeping their players classified as amateurs is absolutely staggering.  But from the article below, it seems like legal precedent is finally beginning to really push back against the NCAA.  If there is one thing that could change the make up of college sports, this is it.  Title IX has dominated the college sports discussion for years, and I definitely think it would come into play if certain athletes began to get paid.  But college athletes being paid to play their sports would be bigger news by far, because the entire face of college athletics would change, and so would the all-important revenue streams.

Don’t believe me that the entire article is worth reading?  Well check out a couple of interesting excerpts below, and I think you’ll agree with me that this is quite possibly the most interesting article on college athletics EVER.

In an 1892 game against its archrival, Yale, the Harvard football team was the first to deploy a “flying wedge,” based on Napoleon’s surprise concentrations of military force. In an editorial calling for the abolition of the play, The New York Times described it as “half a ton of bone and muscle coming into collision with a man weighing 160 or 170 pounds,” noting that surgeons often had to be called onto the field. Three years later, the continuing mayhem prompted the Harvard faculty to take the first of two votes to abolish football. Charles Eliot, the university’s president, brought up other concerns. “Deaths and injuries are not the strongest argument against football,” declared Eliot. “That cheating and brutality are profitable is the main evil.” Still, Harvard football persisted. In 1903, fervent alumni built Harvard Stadium with zero college funds. The team’s first paid head coach, Bill Reid, started in 1905 at nearly twice the average salary for a full professor.

That didn’t do it for you?  Ok, so you’re a little harder to impress than I thought.  How about this one? The author is talking about a lawsuit brought by former NCAA athletes who claim their image is being used to sell games…

The legal contention centers on Part IV of the NCAA’s “Student-Athlete Statement” for Division I, which requires every athlete to authorize use of “your name or picture … to promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs.” Does this clause mean that athletes clearly renounce personal interest forever? If so, does it actually undermine the NCAA by implicitly recognizing that athletes have a property right in their own performance?

I mean, come on!  This stuff is incredibly interesting and just so relevant!  And even people recently involved with the sports world at the college level see the hypocrisy and rampant abuse.  Those still in power seem blind to this argument, however.

The late Myles Brand, who led the NCAA from 2003 to 2009, defended the economics of college sports by claiming that they were simply the result of a smoothly functioning free market. He and his colleagues deflected criticism about the money saturating big-time college sports by focusing attention on scapegoats; in 2010, outrage targeted sports agents. Last year Sports Illustrated published “Confessions of an Agent,” a firsthand account of dealing with high-strung future pros whom the agent and his peers courted with flattery, cash, and tawdry favors. Nick Saban, Alabama’s head football coach, mobilized his peers to denounce agents as a public scourge. “I hate to say this,” he said, “but how are they any better than a pimp? I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None.”

Saban’s raw condescension contrasts sharply with the lonely penitence from Dale Brown, the retired longtime basketball coach at LSU. “Look at the money we make off predominantly poor black kids,” Brown once reflected. “We’re the whoremasters.”

So check out The Shame of College Sports by Taylor Branch, and prepare to shocked right out of your seat.  Amazing detail, research and insight.  Awesome stuff, and even if we don’t necessarily like the message it sends, amateur college sports just might be broken.  Isn’t it worth a closer look?

Memorial_Stadium_medium Nebraska
Nothing about this set up says "amateur" to me...

Photo courtesy SBNation


  1. I think it’s only a matter of time until certain college sports teams (See: major football and basketball programs) secede from the NCAA, pay their players, set up their own playoffs, and continue to pay their coaches ridiculous salaries. These schools could still maintain NCAA affiliations in other sports – football and basketball would simply be glorified club teams housed on campus. There will be 4 major conferences with 12-16 teams each, and the issues we currently face (particularly in football, and in regards to playoffs) would be nonexistent.

      • How could you possibly see that happening?

        Do you realize how much support schools get from the NCAA? Even the big time ones? Big schools wil never hop out of the NCAA to create their own league and decide to pay its players! Yeah ok we know, big schools have a lot of money; but that doesn’t change the fact that they are extremely frugal and would only like to spend money if they know they’re going to make money. For one, if a BCS school decides to drop out of the NCAA alliance with a single sport, i highly doubt the NCAA would let it participate in other sports. The NCAA is a tangled web of control that stretches to every collegiate sports team in the nation! They’re not some dogged organization that’ll roll over at every whim of the university. I know they took it easy on Miami football for the ponzi scheme that has taken place over the years, but when you compare the punishment that USC received for its violations, the only “just” course of action for the NCAA to follow was to give the Miami football the death penalty. But of course they wont do that because of what Miami football means to the fans, NCAA history, and (most importantly) revenue of the NCAA.
        Frankly, individual school (no matter the size) will not be able to do anything to reform the NCAA. The only organization with that power is the NCAA itself. Im not saying, athletes shouldn’t get paid. Being one, i know it would be nice; but there are so many different positions you need to look at when passing down money to 18-21yr olds in college. What i am saying is that the colleges and universities’ athletics underneath the web of the NCAA dont have as much power of the NCAA as people assume. 

        • How much support DO schools get from the NCAA?  You seem to know it’s a lot, yet those numbers aren’t public.  That’s interesting.  What we do know is that the NCAA gets big cuts of TV contracts for some sports, and that’s how they fund themselves, along with endorsement deals.  If that money goes directly to the school, or player, as some of the lawsuits in the linked article intend to see to fruition, the ncaa would lose power, and funding, rapidly.

          Second, there are already non-NCAA leagues.  The NAIA is one, but the MCLA is another.  The NCAA allows schools to offer MCLA lacrosse teams when all their other sports are NCAA.  So the precedent for that already exists.

          It seems like the great trick of the NCAA is to make people think that they are the ONLY ones capable of doing what they do.  And that is a monopoly.  But our own fault really, because we are the ones who buy into it.

          Your own analogy about Miami football proves this point exactly.  If 10-20 of the biggest schools in the country all said, bye bye NCAA!, it would lose its power almost overnight.  People should not fear their government, the government should fear its people.  May be very similar with college sports, and we’ve just forgotten it.

    • fair point that people know about it already, but the article that Taylor Branch wrote went into so much history and fact, that I thought it might be a helpful read.  As someone who has researched this topic, I found it to be very interesting and thought provoking.  I know others have talked about it, and ESPN does their fair share of reporting, but nothing as in-depth as what Mr. Branch put together…